The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on May 5 began a two-part series of hearings on recent EPA policy decisions affecting coal mining, and the impacts of the agency’s actions on jobs and the economy of Appalachia. Members of the subcommittee urged a common sense, balanced approach to federal regulation of coal mining activities that does not stifle economic growth or threatens jobs. The conflict over surface coal mining sharpened when EPA, the Corps of Engineers, and the Office of Surface Mining Regulation and Enforcement announced their permitting coordination agreements June 11, 2009. Furthermore, on April 1, 2010, EPA announced its interim guidance insisting on measurements of stream conductivity as central parts of any permit requests. The guidance still has not been finalized. EPA has been blocking almost all proposals for mountaintop removal mines and many other coal mines.
Testimony was provided by Teresa Marks, Executive Director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, testified on behalf of the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and all 50 states’ environmental agencies. Dr. Leonard Peters, Secretary of Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet, provided a practical example of how EPA’s rulemaking process has impacted permitting activities in Kentucky. Harold Quinn, President of the National Mining Association, spoke about some of the economic implications of EPA’ s regulatory approach that has resulted in economic impacts on lower income families and jobs. Witnesses also described EPA’s recently implemented, extra-regulatory Enhanced Coordination Process, which created a new level of EPA review and has served to indefinitely delay some permits. Michael Gardner of Oxford Resources Partners provided an example, describing the process for obtaining what is known as an NWP 49 permit, for which Oxford applied in 2008. The Subcommittee will conduct part II of this two-part hearing on May 11and will hear from EPA, economists, legal experts and impacted business.