By SHARON K. HALL
Supporters of coal mining gathered in Hazard to hear U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plan to introduce legislation that would target the Environmental Protection Agency’s coal mining permit approval process. The Republican senator from Kentucky was joined with U.S. Representative Shelly Capito (R) from West Virginia who will introduce similar legislation to the U.S House of Representatives. By relieving burdensome regulations to the coal industry McConnell expects it to bring mining jobs back to Kentucky and other states.
McConnell said the EPA’s “war on coal” has created a depression in Kentucky, particularly eastern Kentucky. His approach is to push back against the administration he accused of regulating America’s coal industry out of existence.
“The president carried only 4 of 120 counties in Kentucky,” said McConnell. “If the rest of the country were like Kentucky we would have a new president. But we have to deal with what we have.”
He blamed Obama for putting people in positions that would hurt the economy. “If we are going to put (these) people in these (EPA) jobs we want to give them a time limit to decide (if a coal mining permit is approved or denied). Make a decision: yes or no. Leaving the coal businesses in limbo makes it impossible to for them to plan.”
Since 2008 nearly forty coal mining permits have been held up in eastern Kentucky. Over $123 million in coal severance from these 40 permits alone has been lost. McConnell said Monday that 4,000 coal mining jobs have been lost in the region. Lost jobs also impact other employment. For every miner employed three more Kentuckians hold jobs indirectly dependent on coal, including farmers, realtors, and transportation workers.
Whayne Supply is one example of a business that is indirectly impacted by the coal mining industry. It employs nearly 1,500 people whose job depends on coal. The company builds mining equipment. Tim Embry, Vice President of Branch Operations, spoke on behalf of company president Monty Boyd who was out of the country. Embry said it was the 100th anniversary of Whayne Supply and they want to serve another 100 years. Whayne Supply in Hazard was the site of the April 29 event hosting McConnell. Earlier that day McConnell stopped in Pikeville to announce his plan there.
“This EPA has turned the coal permitting process into an illegitimate, back-door means to shutdown coal mines permanently, by sitting on permits indefinitely and removing any certainty from the regulatory process. By playing this game of ‘run out the clock’, they have put many Kentucky mining operations into limbo and cost Kentucky thousands of jobs and over $123 million in coal severance money,” McConnell said. “The EPA is changing the rules in the middle of the game. And they’ve done it all without a single vote in Congress. What the EPA is doing is outside the scope of its authority, outside the scope of the law, and represents a fundamental departure from the permitting process as originally envisioned by Congress. So if this administration won’t rein the EPA in, Congress will. Congress must.”
McConnell announced plans to introduce The Coal Jobs Protection Act that would require the EPA to approve or veto 402-permit applications within 270 days of application. If the EPA doesn’t act by that time, the permit would be automatically approved. It would give the EPA 90 days after they receive a 404-permit application to begin the authorization process. Also, it would give the president a year to conduct an environmental assessment. Failure to act within that time frame would mean the application is approved, the permit is issued, and the permit would never be subject to judicial review.
Congresswoman Capito talked about a recent appeals court ruling upholding EPA’s decision to retroactively veto a permit of a coal mining job of Arch Coal in West Virginia. It had originally been approved but since had been vetoed by EPA. It has gone back and forth in court. Capito described this week’s ruling from the appeals court as “chilling”.
State Representatives Fitz Steele (D) and Brandon Smith (R) both spoke in support of the bipartisan bill. Perry County Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble (D) talked about loss of coal severance funds. He said people in all counties of eastern Kentucky are out of work because of the negative impact from federal government regulations.