The EPA's Discontents

| Thu Jan. 13, 2011 3:13 PM EST

Enviros and local activists are cheering the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to veto a permit for the Spruce mine in West Virginia, but the coal industry—and a number of coal-friendly legislators—aren't pleased.

National Mining Association president Hal Quinn released this statement:

EPA has taken this unprecedented action—never before contemplated in the nearly 40 years since the enactment of the Clean Water Act—at a time of great economic uncertainty. NMA urges the administration to step back from this unwarranted action and restore trust in the sanctity of lawfully granted and abided by permits and the jobs and economic activity they support.

The EPA's action is unprecedented, that much is true. This marks the first time since the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972 that a permit was rescinded following the agency's review. But the agency pretty clearly outlined the reasons it is pulling the permit. The agency was also careful to note that it made attempts to work with the coal company, Mingo Logan, to find an alternative dumping plan.

Members of West Virginia's congressional delegation are particularly aggrieved by the EPA's decision. Senior senator, Jay Rockefeller (D) sent a letter to President Obama expressing his "outrage" over the decision (via E2 Wire). "This action not only affects this specific permit, but needlessly throws other permits into a sea of uncertainty at a time of great economic distress," wrote Rockefeller. He expressed his hope, however, that the decision would be overturned in court in the future.

The state's new senator, Joe Manchin (D), called the decision "irresponsible and unprecedented."

"It goes without saying, such an irresponsible regulatory step is not only a shocking display of overreach, it will have a chilling effect on investments and our economic recovery," he said. "I plan to do everything in my power to fight this decision."

The state's Democratic House member, Nick Rahall, was also displeased. From his statement:

This veto reaches well beyond one coal mine; it threatens the economic security of every business that relies upon these Clean Water Act permits and that depends upon a fair and consistent permitting process. While this Administration claims that it will not take similar action on any other permit, there is nothing to prevent it, or any future EPA, from reaching back to veto a previously granted permit now that this line has been crossed.