Environment
4:30 pm
Mon April 29, 2013

McConnell to Introduce 'Coal Jobs Protection Act'

U.S. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to announce a bill to put limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of coal mining.

McConnell’s bill—which he’s calling “The Coal Jobs Protection Act”—would set deadlines for the EPA to approve or veto coal mining permits. If McConnell’s bill becomes law, the agency would have 270 days to act on some permits for water pollution. For valley fill permits, the bill gives the EPA a year to conduct an environmental assessment. This is a time-intensive process that the EPA estimates takes an average of three years.

About 4,000 coal miners have been idled over the past year, largely because of market factors (like low natural gas prices). But McConnell says the EPA’s regulations have worsened the situation by stalling the permitting process:

“This EPA has turned the coal permitting process into an illegitimate, back-door means to shut down coal mines permanently, by sitting on permits indefinitely and removing any certainty from the regulatory process. By playing this game of ‘run out the clock,’ they have put many Kentucky mining operations into limbo and cost Kentucky thousands of jobs and over $123 million in coal severance money,” McConnell said. “The EPA is changing the rules in the middle of the game. And they’ve done it all without a single vote in Congress. What EPA is doing is outside the scope if its authority, outside the scope of the law, and represents a fundamental departure from the permitting process as originally envisioned by Congress. So if this administration won’t rein the EPA in, Congress will. Congress must.”

The press release doesn’t mention the Spruce Mine in West Virginia, but it’s hard to ignore that case in the context of McConnell’s new bill. Spruce would have been the largest mountaintop removal mine in Appalachia—its permit was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, but then retroactively vetoed by the EPA. Last week, an appeals court ruled that the EPA acted appropriately in the veto.

McConnell’s bill hasn’t been released in its entirety yet, but there was another passage that caught my eye:

The Coal Jobs Protection Act would also implement much-needed reform to help farmers, home builders, realtors, transportation-industry workers, municipalities, and manufacturers at risk from the EPA’s wish to impose a back-door national energy tax by regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants under the Clean Air Act. Such a move would hurt the economy and endanger millions of jobs across the country.

Of course, the EPA has proposed carbon dioxide standards only for new power plants (so far). It’ll be interesting to see what McConnell will propose in the final legislation.