Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today asked fellow senators to co-sponsor legislation to prevent U.S. EPA from retroactively revoking permits, a response to the agency's decision last week to cancel the mountaintop-removal permit of a West Virginian coal mine.
"In the coming weeks, I intend to pursue legislation to clarify, in no uncertain terms, that the EPA does not have authority under the Clean Water Act to reverse prior approvals of the USACE [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] where a permit has been put through a rigorous regulatory process, including time for thorough review by the EPA for possible negative environmental consequences, and awarded by the USACE prior to any official objections from the EPA," Manchin said in a letter to his colleagues.
Asking for bipartisan support, the freshman senator said the "EPA decision has far-reaching consequences not just for my beloved State of West Virginia, but also for the entire country."
Last week, EPA revoked the coal mining permit of the Spruce No. 1 Mine in the Mountain State. The bill is an effort to block such an "extraordinary step" in the future.
The 2,278-acre mine in Logan County was permitted in 2007 by the USACE and marks EPA's 13th veto under the 1972 Clean Water Act. The agency last used its veto authority in 2008 when it stopped a flood control project that regulators say would have destroyed 67,000 acres of Mississippi River wetlands.
Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled that mining companies have a right to challenge EPA's new policies on mountaintop-removal coal mining, saying EPA may have exceeded its legal authority.
The agency last week said it revoked the permit after talks with the mining company failed to yield an agreement to substantially reduce environmental damage. The revoked permit would have allowed the company to dump 110 million cubic yards of mine waste into waterways, bury six miles of streams, pollute waters on the site and downstream that would kill wildlife, and dynamite 2,200 acres of mountains and forestland, EPA said.
"The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend," Assistant Administrator for Water Peter Silva said in a statement last week. "Coal and coal mining are part of our nation's energy future and EPA has worked with companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation's waters. We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water."
But Manchin and other proponents of mining say the EPA plan is detrimental to the industry and employment.
"At a time when our nation is struggling to recover from the worst economic recession in history, and with an unemployment rate that has hovered near 10 percent for two years, the precedent this decision sets could not be more dangerous," Manchin said. "Although the EPA claims no other permits are currently being considered for a retroactive veto, the potential negative effects of this decision are staggering. Now, every similarly valid Section 404 permit is faced with regulatory limbo and potentially the same after-the-fact reversal."
This marks the first piece of legislation introduced by Manchin, who was sworn into office last year to finish out the term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D). Manchin is up for re-election in 2012 and is already a prime target of the GOP.
Republicans moved quickly to denounce Manchin's proposed legislation as political posturing. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) sent a release deriding the move and noting that the freshman senator had neglected to say if the legislation had the support of the majority leader or "other pro-cap-and-trade Democrats, as well as a commitment for a vote."
"If Joe Manchin is truly serious about reining in the EPA, he wouldn't have stood side-by-side with President Obama, and he certainly wouldn't have supported anti-coal Harry Reid [D-Nev.] as Senate Majority Leader," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said in the release. "So this isn't a serious legislative effort by Joe Manchin -- it's political posturing in its worst form -- because he knows that this Senate Democrat majority is focused on expanding the EPA's powers, and not reining them in."