The Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority, in effect usurping states’ rights to regulate surface mining operations, according to a decision issued on Tuesday by the U.S. District Court.
District Judge Reggie B. Walton issued his ruling in response to a lawsuit from the National Mining Association, among others, against the EPA and its administrator, Lisa Jackson. Walton noted that the EPA exceeded its statutory authority under the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act by issuing a final guidance memorandum last year that included thresholds for water quality standards based on conductivity levels in streams near surface mining operations in Appalachia.
Coal industry supporters decried the guidance as a method for the EPA to hold up surface mining permits in Appalachia. EPA officials argued that the guidance was not binding, but instead offered guidelines for regulators to follow to protect local water quality based on the best available science.
In their arguments, the EPA claimed that the guidance is not a final agency action, and even if it was the U.S. District Court does not have jurisdiction.
Judge Walton, however, ruled to the contrary, noting that the guidance has also affected the way regulators approach the permitting process.
“The record before the Court thus confirms the plaintiffs’ allegations that the Final Guidance is being implemented as binding and having a practical effect on the permitting process for new Appalachian surface coal mining projects,” Walton noted in Tuesday’s ruling.
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, which was also a party to the lawsuit, said it is unclear how this ruling will affect the industry which is currently experiencing a downturn, but it will prevent the EPA from unduly barring surface mining permits in Appalachia.
“United States District Court for the District of Columbia today announced what Kentucky coal miners have already witnessed firsthand - That the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its leadership acted unfairly and illegally in imposing its moratorium on the issuance of coal permits,” Bissett said in a statement. “At a time when our coal miners are concerned about their jobs, it is good news to know that our court system sided today with Kentucky workers over the ideology of appointed bureaucrats. It is our hope that the rest of the nation sees the wrong that was occurring in the Commonwealth of Kentucky by our own federal government.
“I want to thank Governor Steve Beshear, Secretary Len Peters, and our legal team who supported our efforts. While it is too early to see any progress with Eastern Kentucky mining permits from today’s verdict, it is our hope that new opportunities for mining-related employment will no longer be held hostage by publicly-funded anti-coal activists in our government who care little for the working people they are hurting.”