The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency would have to review mining permit applications more quickly under legislation filed Tuesday by two Appalachian lawmakers who say they want to boost coalfield employment.
U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia introduced a House version of the so-called Mining Jobs Protection Act that they say would protect Appalachian coal miners from “strangulation by regulation.”
The House bill, similar to one filed in the Senate last week, would give the EPA up to 60 days to accept or reject permit applications so that mining companies aren’t left waiting indefinitely to learn whether they’ll be allowed to open new operations or to expand existing ones. Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said the current waiting period is one of the top complaints of the mining industry. He said some companies have had to wait years for a response.
Coal state lawmakers have complained that the EPA, under the Obama administration, has used the permitting process of the federal Clean Water Act against the industry.
“Continued and arbitrary delays in the permitting process are threatening to put our people out of work,” Rogers said in a statement Tuesday. “With unemployment hovering at 9 percent, our job-creating industries need regulatory certainty — not more of EPA’s aggressive and overzealous strangulation by regulation.”
Capito accused the EPA of “advancing an anti-coal agenda” by holding up or revoking permits to open coal mines.
“Intentionally delaying the approval process has led to a slow-bleed of jobs throughout
Appalachia at a time when we should be focusing on making it easier for businesses to stay afloat,” she said. “Our miners should be able to conduct their day-to-day business and make investments in the future without a veil of uncertainty hovering over the industry. Thousands of my constituents depend on the mining industry to put food on the table, and I will fight to keep it from being targeted by those who wish to use regulatory authority to launch the so-called ‘war on coal.’”
U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma previously introduced similar legislation in the Senate that would require the EPA to move faster in granting federal permits needed to open coal mines.
McConnell praised Rogers for filing the House version of the bill, calling it “great news for thousands of Kentuckians who work in coal mining.”
“EPA’s continued assault on coal must stop, and our legislation is an important step to help make that happen,” McConnell said in a statement.
The EPA acknowledged in a statement last week that coal is important to the nation’s energy future, but defended its actions in regulating coal.
“Appalachian families should not have to choose between clean water and a healthy economy — they deserve both,” the EPA said in the statement Thursday. “EPA has set commonsense guidelines that allow companies to mine coal while avoiding permanent and irreversible damage to water quality.”
Environmentalists have defended the EPA, saying the agency is taking needed steps to evaluate permit applications. The group Appalachian Voices said EPA has to consider the impacts of mining adjacent communities.