Senator McConnell joins push to speed up coal mine permits

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Alleging that the Obama administration is
engaged in a "backdoor means of shutting down coal mines," Senate
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell joined two other Washington
lawmakers on Thursday in introducing legislation that would require
the Environmental Protection Agency to move faster in granting
federal permits needed to open coal mines.

McConnell and Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jim Inhofe of
Oklahoma jointly introduced the Mining Jobs Protection Act.

They weren't the only Republicans taking aim at the Obama
administration's EPA this week.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the
House Appropriations Committee, chided the EPA for "running
roughshod" over the nation's small businesses, including
Appalachian coal companies.

"In fact, I believe EPA is headed in the wrong direction with
an aggressive and overzealous regulatory agenda that far exceeds
the authority it's been granted," Rogers said in a statement

And in the Kentucky capital this week, state lawmakers thumbed
their noses at the agency by passing an apparently unenforceable
resolution declaring the Bluegrass State a "sanctuary" from
federal environmental rules. The resolution was intended to send a
message to EPA that state lawmakers are frustrated with
"over-regulation" that they believe is costing jobs.

McConnell's bill would give the EPA up to 60 days to accept or
reject permit applications so that mining companies aren't left
waiting indefinitely to learn whether they'll be allowed to open
new operations or to expand existing ones.

He said the EPA, under the Obama administration, has essentially
used the permitting process of the federal Clean Water Act against
the mining industry. Paul said the EPA's "war on coal" is costing
jobs in Kentucky.

Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee, which will consider the bill.

"The EPA has turned the permitting process into a backdoor
means of shutting down coal mines by sitting on permits
indefinitely, thus removing any regulatory certainty," McConnell
said in a Senate floor speech Thursday. "What they're doing is
outside the scope of their authority and the law and represents a
fundamental departure from the permitting process as originally
envisioned by Congress."

Austin Hall, an organizer for the environmental group
Appalachian Voices, objected Thursday to a shortened timeframe for
the EPA to evaluate permit applications.

"The EPA is taking the proper and needed steps to
scientifically evaluate these permits and to seriously take into
consideration the impacts that mines in Appalachia will have on
adjacent communities, to ensure the water quality is protected, to
ensure that livelihoods are protected and to ensure that property
is protected," he said.

McConnell, R-Ky., charged that industries other than coal are at
risk, too.

"The out-of-control EPA is already costing the people of
Kentucky jobs and their war on coal could cost us even more,"
Paul, a Republican, said in a statement.

Paul declared that he and McConnell "are working to end this
abuse by the EPA, and stop the Obama administration from killing
jobs in Kentucky and other coal-producing states."

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett praised the
lawmakers for taking on an EPA that he accused of destabilizing the
mining industry.

"The serious concern here is that appointed bureaucrats are
holding pending permits to mine coal hostage with no timeline for
approval, creating greater uncertainty, and keeping Kentuckians
from going to work," Bissett said, echoing the senators' remarks.

Hall of Appalachian Votes said the McConnell-Paul-Imhofe
proposal goes even farther than a similar measure, dubbed the EPA
Fair Play Act, filed last month by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of
West Virginia.

Manchin argued in filing his bill that the EPA had overstepped
its authority in vetoing a Clean Water Act permit that the Army
Corps of Engineers had issued for West Virginia's largest
mountaintop removal mine, Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine. Manchin's bill, similar to one filed by West Virginia's U.S. House
delegation, would prohibit vetoes of properly vetted permits.

Environmentalists oppose both measures.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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