EPA's delaying of mountaintop mining permits has jeopardized thousands of jobs and supply of a fuel vital to meeting national electric power needs, said the lawsuit, filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.
The NMA suit against EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contends they have circumvented requirements for public notice and comment on federal statutes and ignored calls for "peer-reviewed science" as part of "a deliberate policy to substitute agency 'guidance' for formal rulemaking."
A spokeswoman said EPA is reviewing the suit, and added: "EPA's mining guidance is fully consistent with the law and the best available science and will help ensure that Americans living in coal country don't have to choose between a healthy environment for their families and the jobs they need to support them."During the previous administration of George W. Bush, coal companies were essentially given free rein for mountaintop removal mining, as the coal friendly administration changed regulations and definitions in the clean water laws the coal companies could not comply with in mountaintop removal to allow valley fill to come closer than stipulated by the law to the streams and other waterways. These changes were done behind closed doors without input from the EPA or legislative review.
Since the Obama administration came into office, the EPA has put almost 200 permits in Appalachia for surface, or mountaintop, mining on hold for "enhanced review." That sparked complaints from mining companies that it was aimed at banning the technique, in which mines are dug directly into the side of mountains and debris is discarded in springs and rivers, destroying headwaters of many mountain streams and polluting those waters directly downstream.
"EPA has usurped authorities clearly granted to the states and other federal agencies and has used technical benchmarks for assessing water quality that are both arbitrary and capricious," the NMA suit said.
"Detailed agency guidance is not a valid substitute for lawful rulemaking based on public notice and comment," NMA president and chief executive 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 NMA said EPA's action resulted in a de facto moratorium on coal mining "that is irreparably harming NMA's member companies, the welfare of coal communities and the economy."
It said a May 21 report by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Minority staff stated nearly 18,000 new and existing jobs and more than 80 small businesses are jeopardized by the policy EPA and the Corps have applied to the 190 permits still awaiting action in mid-May.
Reuters, "Coal companies sue EPA over mine permit delays", accessed July 21, 2010