EPA’s Jackson Skips Congress Hearing on Arch Coal’s Mine Permit

Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, turned down a request from lawmakers to testify about the agency’s decision to withdraw Arch Coal Inc.’s permit for a mountaintop mine in West Virginia.

The EPA told the committee that given the short notice for the hearing, Jackson wouldn’t be available to discuss the agency’s action on Arch’s Spruce Mine No. 1, Alisha Johnson, an agency spokeswoman, said today in an e-mail. The hearing by the House Natural Resources panel was announced last week, and Jackson was listed as invited to attend.

“We have heard a lot about openness and transparency from this administration,” Representative Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican and chairman of the committee, said at the hearing. “It’s very disappointing” that Jackson and officials from two agencies didn’t agree to testify, he said.

Jackson spoke today at the World Science Festival in New York on a panel about pioneers in science, according to her public schedule.

Arch won a permit in 2007 during the Bush administration to fill streams and valleys with debris from the Spruce No. 1 mine site in Logan County. The EPA under President Barack Obama revoked that permit. A federal court ruled against the administration’s retroactive action this year, a decision that has been appealed.

Other No-Shows

Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers and Office of Surface Mining also declined to testify in response to an invitation.

“Even if they are extremely busy, they could have sent someone in their place,” Representative Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican and chairman of the subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources, said at the hearing.

Lamborn had committee staff put the nameplates for Jackson and the other officials at the witnesss table, and went through the procedure of calling them to testify even after the lawmakers knew they wouldn’t appear.

“This sideshow confirms that the officials had better things to do than to appear at this political theater,” New Jersey Democrat Rush Holt said at the hearing, referring to Lamborn’s actions.

To mine coal from the Spruce No. 1 site, the company would have dynamited more than 2,200 acres of mountains and forests and buried six miles of streams with the debris, according to the EPA.

“This case is about the rule of law and regulatory certainty,” Karen Harbert, president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, testified today. “The outcome of this case will signal whether America is open for business and safe for long-term investment.”

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