Coal Tattoo

Inspector General analyzes EPA permit crackdown

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Last week’s release of an EPA Inspector General’s report on the agency’s mountaintop removal permit crackdown doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of media attention, given the timing on the day before Thanksgiving.

But Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. and requester of the IG study, certainly thought the report was a major slap at the Obama administration:

The report released today by the EPA Office of Inspector General confirms my concerns that EPA, through its own actions, is systematically slowing the pace of permit evaluations in Appalachia. Even more troubling is that as our nation works to find ways to cut our national debt, EPA has increased its budget and staff to evaluate these permits.

Instead of spending more and more taxpayer dollars to wage this war on affordable energy, the Obama-EPA should be processing and approving these permits to spur job creation, especially in areas such as the Appalachia that have significant employment needs. Equally important is the potential domestic energy production that these permits would provide.

Are the IG’s findings as big a deal as Sen. Inhofe makes them out to be? Well, you can read the entire report here, and see what you think.

But there are a few things to consider here … first, Sen. Inhofe’s staff makes much out of one particular statistic in the report, when they say in his statement:

Unfortunately, this report proves that the regulated community cannot depend on the Obama EPA to have an open and transparent permit process. EPA has a job to do and they need to do it. But taking 731 days to complete a 144 [-day] task only further demonstrates the Obama Administration’s determination to shut down the development of our vast domestic fossil fuels.

A 144-day task? Let’s be clear on what that figure is.  The IG report (on page 14) explains:

Corps regulations govern the permit application process and allow 60-90 days for IP application review and processing. However, the Corps stated that it has an internal goal to process permit applications within 120 days.  In contrast, EPA informed us that, on average, review and processing of an IP application for all types of activities (not specific to surface coal mining) takes 144 days.

Sen. Inhofe’s press release makes this statement:

Almost half of the 185 permits have taken at least 731 days to evaluate.

Here’s the part of the IG report where that comes from:

… Out of a universe of 185 projects, the Corps issued 56 permits (or 30 percent). Of these 56 issued permits, the Corps reviewed and processed 23 within its stated goal of 120 days. Table 4 also shows that 31 of the 56 took longer than the IP average review time of 144 days. Of the 66 pending applications, 41 applications (62 percent) have been in process for over 1 year. In fact, table 4 shows that 110 permit activities (59 percent)—whether issued, withdrawn, or pending—have taken a year or longer to process, with 75 out of 185 activities (or 41 percent) exceeding 2 years.

It’s interesting to note, though, that of the 185 permits examined by the IG’s office, the status is roughly equally split three ways among permits that have been issued, permits that the company withdrew, and permits that are pending — hardly the permit moratorium that the coal industry and their political friends constantly talk about. And of the permits that have been issued, nearly half were issued within 90 days, and two thirds were issued in less than a year.