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Rahall joins GOP attacks on Obama mining crackdown

Read more: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va.., joined with House Republicans Thursday in a committee hearing orchestrated to highlight coal industry opposition to the Obama administration's crackdown on strip-mining pollution.

In the first of a two-part hearing, lawmakers heard from two industry officials and two state regulators who think the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's tougher permit reviews and new water quality guidance have gone too far.

"The deliberative and disruptive policies that have closed and stopped coal mines from receiving permits to open or expand have consequences that reverberate throughout the region," National Mining Association President Hal Quinn told a House subcommittee. "The consequences begin with the coal supply chain and spread to those who benefit from low-cost coal energy."

Quinn's group is challenging EPA's crackdown in court, as are several coal-mining states, including West Virginia. Environmental groups have joined the suits on EPA's side.

Industry officials say the EPA's moves have slowed the issuance of new mining permits to a trickle, though several major permits have been approved with lessened stream impacts after EPA reviews.

Michael Gardner, general counsel of Ohio-based Oxford Resource Partners, told lawmakers that EPA permit reviews have hampered his company's efforts to get new permits and expand mining operations.

But Gardner's prepared testimony indicated that EPA did more detailed reviews of only four of the nine permits Oxford had pending when the Obama crackdown began.

Two of those permits were ultimately issued and the company withdrew two other applications. All four permits were actually in the works as early as 2005, meaning they would have faced several years of delays before President Obama ever took office.

The committee hearings, called "EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs," are scheduled to continue Wednesday. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment has jurisdiction because the federal Army Corps of Engineers issued permits for mining operations to bury streams with waste rock and dirt.

Rahall, the committee's ranking Democrat, said he is trying to find a way to "strike the balance" between protecting the environment and mining coal.

"The people of Southern West Virginia love the natural beauty of our land," Rahall said. "We want clean air and clean water. But we want jobs as well."

But witnesses at Thursday's hearing included no representatives of environmental or citizen groups who support the EPA crackdown, and no scientists who have worked on the growing collection of studies that show mining is damaging the Appalachian environment and potentially harming public health.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson is scheduled to testify next week, but that hearing will again include a collection of business leaders who oppose the agency's actions and no citizens or environmentalists.

"Despite the severe threats that mountaintop removal coal mining poses to the health of Appalachian families and the environment, not a single community member affected by mountaintop removal has been invited to speak to this committee," said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. ""Mountaintop removal is not the economic cure-all that many in Congress claim it to be. In reality, it costs miners their jobs through mechanization, jeopardizes their health and puts state budgets even deeper into debt."

Rahall, through a spokeswoman, could offer no examples of proposals he has made to ensure mining damage is reduced. Rahall, though, has joined the GOP in pushing budget measures that would block EPA's efforts to more closely scrutinize mining permits.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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