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May 01, 2013

New Spate of Coal Bills in Congress Threaten Air, Water, and Public Health

Wv mtr siteThis week, Senator Mitch McConnell unveiled legislation that would force the Environmental Protection Agency to speed up its permitting process for new coal mines instead of taking the needed time to review these proposed projects for potential polluting runoff. This is just the latest in a recent spate of legislative moves by King Coal's buddies in Congress that would handcuff the EPA at the expense of clean air, clean water, and our public health.

Senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller have introduced another bill to narrow EPA's authority to protect our air and water. Rep. Nick Rahall says he will reintroduce his bill from last session that would overturn key parts of the Clean Water Act, put key decisions in the hands of the states, and prevent federal oversight. And Rep. Capito (who is running for Rockefeller's Senate seat that he will vacate when he retires in 2014) plans to introduce a version of McConnell's bill in the US House.

These bills come as a response to last week's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on the largest mountaintop-removal coal project ever proposed in the history of West Virginia, the Spruce Mine. The court affirmed that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Water Act to veto mountaintop removal coal mining permits after they've been issued.

For decades the government has allowed the mining industry in Appalachia to operate pretty much as it pleases. Now, when the EPA finally takes some limited, reasonable steps to protect communities and the environment, the coal industry screams and its politicians race to introduce bills to block the EPA.

These are huge overreactions to the Spruce Mine ruling. The EPA has used its veto authority only 13 times in 40 years and used it retroactively only three times. Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette has a great breakdown of the overblown responses by Appalachian legislators, too.

The EPA must protect communities from the destruction of mountaintop-removal coal mining. Study after study shows the health effects of living near a mountaintop-removal coal mine. From cancer, to birth defects, to premature mortality, mountaintop-removal coal mining is destroying public health in Appalachia as it destroys the environment.

Hopefully, these bills will be dead on arrival, and Congress will let the EPA do its job of protecting public health and ensuring we all have clean air and water - rather than bowing to pressure from coal industry lobbyists.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director

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