Coal Tattoo

House hearing: Let the EPA bashing begin!

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Right now, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure‘s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment is starting the first of two days of hearings scheduled to bash the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s efforts to reduce the dramatic impacts of mountaintop removal coal-mining on the Appalachian environment and coalfield communities.

And as they did yesterday with a staged House hearing on mine safety issues, the National Mining Association is already out there with a press release touting its testimony at today’s committee hearing:

“The deliberate and disruptive policies that have slowed and stopped coal mines from receiving permits to open or expand have consequences that reverberate throughout the region. The consequences begin with the coal supply chain and spread to those that benefit from low-cost coal energy,” National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Hal Quinn told the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment in testimony today on the subcommittee’s inquiry into “EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs.”

The hearing will be pretty predictable, but one thing to watch for is how far Rep. Nick J. Rahall, the ranking Democrat, goes in ignoring the negative impacts on his district from coal mining in his effort to out pro-coal the Republians. And it will be fun to see if the National Mining Association is able to point to some actual peer-reviewed scientific research that contradicts EPA’s concerns about the impacts of coal-mining on water quality across the region.

One of the mining industry’s star witnesses will be Michael B. Gardner, general counsel of a company called Oxford Resources Partners, which operates surface mines in Ohio.

In his prepared testimony, Gardner brags about his company’s “dedicated, non-union workforce” and complains bitterly about how EPA officials have handled his company’s applications for Clean Water Act Section 404 “dredge-and-fill” permits. But a couple things jumped out at me about his testimony.

First, while Gardner objects that EPA has not operated in an open and transparent manner with his company, it seems that Oxford hasn’t had any trouble — thanks to help from its local politicians — in scheduling fairly high-level meetings with EPA staffers about specific permit issues.

Second, it’s worth noting that EPA in the end decided to do a more thorough review of only four of the eight Oxford permits it considered for potential placement on EPA’s list for Enhanced Coordinated Procedures.

Next, two of those permits have actually been issued. And the other two were withdrawn by the company — not rejected by EPA (see here, here, here and here).

Finally, while the coal industry wants to complain about what it says are permitting delays under the Obama administration, it’s worth noting that in all four instances, Oxford began coordinating permit activities with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers back in 2005 — when George W. Bush was president. It will be interesting to see if Rep. Rahall asks how much of any delay in permit processing was caused by Bush, as opposed to Obama …

Stay tuned … You can watch the hearing live by going to this link.