The coal industry filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging the Obama administration’s efforts to limit surface coal mining in Appalachia.
The National Mining Association’s lawsuit accuses the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers of illegally preventing mines from obtaining water quality permits in the region. If successful, the NMA says the lawsuit would free a logjam of 235 pending permit applications that have been held up for additional scrutiny by the EPA since 2009.
“Members’ efforts to navigate this unlawful process and obtain reasonable and predictable permit terms have been unsuccessful, leaving us no choice but to challenge the EPA and Corps policy in court,” NMA President Hal Quinn said in a statement. “The agencies’ continued abuse of the law to impose arbitrary standards on mining operations, state agencies and other federal regulatory bodies threatens the entire region with further economic misery and stagnant employment.”
The EPA had no immediate comment. The corps referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which also had no immediate comment.
The lawsuit is the latest skirmish in a series of court fights over mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian states. Mine operators say the practice is highly efficient, supports tens of thousands of jobs and provides coal for electric power plants across much of the South and East. But opponents argue that surface mining is too damaging to the environment because it disposes of excess material such as rock by burying streams.
In this series of court battles, lawsuits by coal companies or industry groups have been rare. The companies typically find themselves fighting lawsuits by environmental groups that seek to stop individual permits.
The core of Tuesday’s lawsuit is an attack on the new surface mining policy announced by the EPA on April 1. The policy tightened water quality standards solely for valley fills at surface coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said at the time the goal was a standard so strict that few, if any, permits would be issued for valley fills.
The lawsuit seeks to have that policy overturned as well as to eliminate the EPA’s practice of off ering to approve one valley fill permit at a time, which the NMA says oversteps the agency’s authority.
Those decisions should be left to the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the lawsuit contends.
“EPA and the Corps have launched a moving target in coal mining permitting that is substantially and irreparably harming NMA’s coal mining members,” the lawsuit says.