Last updated: July 17. 2013 3:25PM - 437 Views

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Staff Writer

WASHINGTON - A federal judge has ruled the Environmental Protection Agency does not have the authority to overrule state agencies and set water quality standards for mining in Appalachia.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said that while he understands the need to protect both the environment and the economic interests in Appalachia, laws to protect that balance is not the issue he was debating.

“ In this litigation, the sole inquiry for the Court is the legality of the Final Guidance, and, for the reasons set forth above, that inquiry yields the conclusion that the EPA has overstepped its statutory authority under the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and infringed on the authority afforded state regulators by those statutes,” Judge Walton said.

The regulations the EPA were trying to enact were central to the so-called “War on Coal” industry supporters say is being waged by the Obama administration, and particularly Lisa Jackson, Administrator for the EPA.

Since the present administration took office, permits for new surface mines have trickled down, and the permitting process has grown from a matter of months to years in what has been labeled a “permitorium.”

The current action was brought by the National Mining Association against Jackson, the EPA and the Sierra Club.

“As we have always maintained, EPA has engaged in an unlawful overreach in its attempt to commandeer the permitting responsibilities the law places with other state and federal agencies,” Mining Association President Hall Quinn said. “Today’s decision has truly given coal miners and coal mining communities their ‘day in court.’ It is now time to get miners back to work by allowing the state permitting agencies to do their jobs.”

The Kentucky Coal Association said that the current economic situation in the coalfields has been hurt by the overreach of the EPA.

“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,” KCA President Bill Bissettt said. “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.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin called the ruling a “great day for West Virginia.”

“I’m pleased and gratified to hear that the federal court has ruled in favor of our state, the miners who work here and the people who depend on coal for their livelihoods – and against the EPA for overstepping its boundaries,” Manchin said. “ I remain hopeful that this court decision will put us on the path of getting the permits that we need to provide energy and jobs not just for West Virginia, but for this entire country.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney was in Williamson for a fund raiser when the ruling came down.

“It is nice to see a judge do something right for a change,” Maloney said. “When you fight back, you win. We need to have more actions against the EPA, I’m not afraid to make Obama mad.”

But environmental groups did not applaud the ruling. They said the ruling will lead to dangerous chemicals polluting the environment.

“We’re saddened that this federal court ruling will prevent the EPA from using this scientific guidance to protect Appalachia’s waters from mountaintop removal mining operations that have been linked to increased harm to human health,” said Dianne Bady, co-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch, said those living in the coalfields depend on regulations to protect their health, since the state has not taken action.

“Our people’s health and the survival of our communities depend on strong enforcement of the laws and regulations intended to protect us from pollution,” Halton said. “Since the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection chooses instead to enable unfettered pollution from mountaintop removal, we must rely on the EPA. The science is clear on what we need to do to protect our waters. We hope that today’s court decision does not weaken EPA’s resolve to protect us from mountaintop removal, which is increasingly linked to deadly human health problems.”

“The federal court decision is a setback for the people of Appalachia,” said Rick Handshoe of the Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

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