EPA revokes permit for mine, official resigns rather than face criticism
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency revoked the permit — approved and functioning — of one of the nation’s largest coal mines for unacceptable environmental impact, calling it “mountaintop removal.”
It’s the EPA’s first-ever ex-post-facto shutdown of an in-work industrial operation with a valid permit.
Pulling the permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia provoked howls of outrage from members of Congress, dozens of industry leaders, and conservatives everywhere.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., posted a blistering condemnation of the EPA on his official Web site saying that “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. I plan to do everything in my power to fight this decision.”
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, nailed it in a statement: “This puts job creators in the untenable position of knowing that the EPA, at any time, can intervene and prevent operations from moving forward after all the appropriate permits have been obtained.”
How could anyone, employer or employed, ever trust the federal government again?
A coalition of 22 trade groups sent a letter to Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, asking for a meeting to petition the White House to save the Spruce permit.
Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and board member of the American Conservative Union, said the permit revocation was “an abuse of executive authority, one example too many.”
The facts back Norquist: the Spruce permit was issued after an extensive 10-year review. Arch Coal paid for a required multimillion-dollar Environmental Impact Statement. Arch never violated the terms of the permit (and the EPA has never said they did).
But the Obama EPA has been constantly hassled by Big Green groups, like the $84 million-a-year Sierra Club with its Stop Coal project, backed by big foundation grants, like the $3.8 million from the Sea Change Foundation “to reduce reliance on energy production from coal power plants.”
Yielding to pressure, the EPA last year asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which is responsible for such permits — to use its authority to close Spruce No. 1. But the Corps, after careful review, found no grounds to revoke or modify the permit.
So EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson did it herself, issuing standards last April that look deliberately calculated to outlaw only mountaintop surface mines similar to the Spruce — and nobody dreamed she would apply them retroactively.
But environmentalists applauded. Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio River Valley Environmental Coalition, told the Washington Post, “We will continue our work to halt other illegal permits, both in-progress and pending.”
West Virginia lawyer Joe Lovett, executive director of the foundation-funded Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, said the EPA decision “reflects growing scientific evidence that these projects are eroding the region’s environment.”
Peter S. Silva, the EPA official responsible for revoking the Spruce permit, resigned a day after his office made the controversial decision, effective Feb. 12. It looked like a Get-Out-Of-Town-Quick move. But Silva, a civil engineer from Southern California, defensively said that the decision “came from following emerging science.”
More likely it came from following emerging Big Green politics. It will be interesting to see where Silva lands after returning “to home and family.”
He was senior policy adviser for the Metropolitan Water District for Southern California before he went to Washington. If Silva returns instead to some cushy foundation-funded think tank-welfare spot, it won’t be a surprise.
Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.