Hearing Highlights EPA’s Dangerous Overreach and Its Impacts on Jobs and a Fragile Economic Recovery

May 11, 2011
Press Release

Washington, DC – A Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hearing today highlighted the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assault on the Appalachian mining industry and the agency’s burdensome regulatory regime that stifles economic growth, ignores sound science, and tramples private property rights.

The Subcommittee finished its two-part series of hearings on the impacts of EPA policies and extra-regulatory actions on mining activities and jobs in Appalachia.  Information and testimony from both last week’s and today’s hearings can be found here.

Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) opened today’s hearing by emphasizing the unfairness of EPA’s overreach on Appalachia.  “This region is being subjected to unequal treatment under the law by the EPA for the arbitrary reason that it produces a domestic source of energy,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs noted that EPA’s arbitrary and legally dubious activity stems in part from its failure to adhere to procedures spelled out in law pertaining to rulemaking and substantive policy changes.  “By ignoring the Administrative Procedure Act, EPA is changing the Clean Water Act and its implementing regulations through means of interim guidance, interim rules, draft policy, or reinterpretation of policy,” Gibbs said.  “EPA is taking these actions with little regard to economic consequences, with little regard to national security, and most importantly, with little regard to the law.”

The Subcommittee and witnesses discussed in detail the impacts of EPA’s actions on Appalachia and the economy, and questioned the extent of EPA’s and the federal government’s authority over states, local governments and private property owners.  EPA recently revoked a permit for the Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine in West Virginia, three years after the permit was issued – with EPA approval – and the project was underway. 

According to West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, “Cancelling permits will have a disastrous effect on the people here.  Not only mining families, but local businesses will be widely affected.  To use one of many examples: buying groceries could become a problem if they were to lose their jobs.  Stores would close.  Refusing to issue permits would have a terribly harsh trickle-down effect on the economy.  Many, many families depend on that paycheck from mining companies.”

Roberts explained that tens of thousands of jobs depend on coal mining activities in West Virginia alone, and the coal industry provides substantial tax dollars to state governments throughout Appalachia.

Mike Carey, President of the Ohio Coal Association, testified further about EPA’s tone deafness to economic and jobs issues: “In a rare statement of honesty bordering on hubris, last year the Office of Surface Mining stated in the justification of the Stream Protection Rule that 7,000 jobs would be lost in Appalachia, but that was okay because some jobs would be created out West.”  Carey asserted that a potential gain in jobs in one part of the United States, at the expense of those in another area, is not justifiable.

David Sunding of the University of California-Berkeley said, “Actions like the EPA’s that increase uncertainty, raise the threshold for any private or public entity to undertake the required early-stage investment.  In this way, the EPA’s action will chill investment in activities requiring a 404 authorization,” he explained.  “A reduced level of investment in projects requiring a Section 404 permit would have effects to go far beyond the industry participants themselves.”

Chairman Gibbs asked the questions, “What does it really mean to get a permit?  What does it mean to get a final decision from the federal government?  If an agency is given the right to unilaterally revoke an already-issued permit, then nothing can ever be considered ‘final.’  The issuance of a federal permit should come with some certainty that the activity can go forward unencumbered but within the bounds of the permit, particularly those activities on private lands.  This no longer seems to be the case and it is going to have a stifling effect on not just mining operations in Appalachia, but on economic development nationwide.”

M. Reed Hopper with the Pacific Legal Foundation stated, “When government agencies, like the EPA, exercise their regulatory power without regard to the very real impacts on the citizenry and in excess of statutory or constitutional authority, they undermine the constitutional foundation and become a law unto themselves. Citizens are left to conclude that the ‘rule of law’ has no meaning and that rules and regulations are based on personal whim.”

“The great misconception in government thinking today is the bureaucratic notion that individual rights (including property rights) are a gift from government,” Hopper continued.  “And what the government gives it may take with impunity. This idea stands in stark contrast to the understanding the Framers had that individual rights are a constraint on governmental conduct.”

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