The Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority by setting a standard for water quality downstream from surface coal mines in Appalachia, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton ruled today in a lawsuit filed by coal interests and states.
Walton said EPA has "only a limited role" in setting specific standards for states that have the authority to enforce federal water-pollution and strip-mining laws. EPA had used electrical conductivity, which increases with the amount of salty minerals in water, to block permits for dozens of mines in Kentucky and West Virginia. It did not go through the usual process of writing a regulation, instead issuing a "guidance" to state agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers, which also enforces the Clean Water Act.
The ruling was "another blow to the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal" coal mining, writes Ken Ward Jr. in The Charleston Gazette. "In January, Walton threw out EPA's plans to work with other agencies to more closely scrutinize certain mining-related water pollution permits for valley fill waste piles. And in March, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, also in the District of Columbia, overturned EPA's veto of the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history. EPA is appealing Jackson's ruling." It is likely to appeal Walton's too, reports Manuel Quinones of Environment & Energy News.
Ward says Walton "noted the obvious: that it was unlikely his decision would end the growing debate over mountaintop removal's impact on the environment and public health, or on the future of coal in the region. Walton said it was not for him to decide "how to best strike a balance between, on the one hand, the need to preserve the verdant landscapes and natural resources of Appalachia and, on the other hand, the economic role that coal mining plays in the region." (Read more)