Coal Industry Wins Challenge to EPA Water Standards

The coal industry won a court ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water-quality standards infringed on state authority to regulate surface mining.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton in Washington yesterday said the EPA exceeded its authority by issuing a so-called final guidance in 2011 that asked states to consider conductivity levels of stream water when issuing mining permits.

The National Mining Association filed one of four lawsuits challenging the EPA guidance. West Virginia and Kentucky also sued.

“Today’s decision has truly given coal miners and coal mining communities their ‘day in court’ and has affirmed NMA’s longstanding belief that EPA overreached its authority in its virtual moratorium on Eastern coal mining permits and denied those operations the protections provided for under the law,” Hal Quinn, president and chief executive officer of the association, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

The ruling sets aside the Obama administration policy issued July 2011 that the agency said was aimed at protecting stream water from the hazards of mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia. The policy was established to ensure consistent and timely review of surface coal-mining permits under the Clean Water Act and other statutes, according to the agency.

The mountaintop-removal technique produces millions of tons of crushed shale and sandstone that is dumped in valleys and streams. Rainwater flowing through the debris carries dissolved metals into the water, a potentially harmful mix for humans and wildlife, the EPA has said.

Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the EPA is reviewing the decision.

EPA Authority

Emma Cheuse, a lawyer for the environmental group Earthjustice, said in a statement that the decision recognized the EPA’s authority to set rules to protect waterways.

“It is essential for both EPA and state agencies charged with protecting communities to follow the science, and they must do everything possible under the law to prevent the irreversible destruction of mountaintop removal mining,” Cheuse said.

The lead case is National Mining Association v. Jackson, 10-1220, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE