Coal Tattoo

In the rush to get a blog post and a print story finished about yesterday’s big federal court ruling throwing out a major part of the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal (and get over to the state Department of Environmental Protection for a hearing on gas drilling rules), I didn’t have a chance to check in with DEP Secretary Randy Huffman’s (above, right, with then-Gov. Manchin and DEP lawyer Ben Bailey) reaction to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton.

So I checked in with Randy this morning and he told me:

It’s pretty straight forward. It wasn’t a surprise. EPA was promulgating standards without using the rule of law to promulgate standards. That’s what we sued them over. This was a no-brainer. If they want to change the standards, they need to go through the process of changing the standards.

No question that the federal court ruling is a huge victory for Randy Huffman, whose agency was among the parties that sued EPA over its water quality guidance and for the coal industry. The West Virginia Coal Association said in its statement:

It is time for the EPA and the Obama Administration to end this job-killing assault and restore the proper balance between the federal government and the states. It is time for the EPA and the Obama Administration to obey the laws passed by Congress rather than legislate through regulation. And it is far past time to put America back to work.

The ruling also had now-Sen. Manchin feeling pretty good, and prompted this remark from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin:

As the court correctly recognized, the West Virginia DEP knows what’s best for West Virginia, not the federal government. I have every faith that DEP Secretary Huffman and his administration will strike a reasonable balance between protecting our mountains and streams, and issuing new mining permits in support of our coal industry.

Well, another state agency — the board charged with hearing appeals of WVDEP’s decisions on water pollution permits, isn’t so sure about that part where WVDEP knows what’s best for West Virginia … Take a look at this quote from another mountaintop removal decision that was released yesterday:

Despite long-standing and abundant evidence with the WVDEP’s watershed database for biological damage … in streams draining surface mines in the West Virginia coalfields, the WVDEP has made little attempt to determine the cause of the damage, or to limit it.

That’s from the state Environmental Quality Board, which voted 3-2 to again overturn WVDEP’s decision to grant a mountaintop removal permit for Arch Coal Inc.’s New Hill West Mine in Monongalia County (see here, here, here and here for previous stories).

In their ruling, the EQB majority (Chairman and Shepherd professor Ed Snyder and Marshall professors Scott Simonton and Charles Somerville) offered a clear and strong support for the growing scientific consensus that large-scale surface coal mining in Appalachian is greatly damaging water quality.  For example:

— The Board finds that a growing body of science has demonstrated that discharges from surface coal mines in Appalachia are strongly correlated with and cause increased levels of conductivity, sulfate and [Total Dissolved Solids, or TDS] in water bodies downstream from mines. The science also demonstrates that these discharges cause harm to aquatic life and significant adverse impacts to aquatic ecosystems in these streams.


The consistency of the correlations identified in the research on the relationship between elevated conductivity from mine discharges and impacts to aquatic organisms has been so strong that it has led scientists to conclude that ‘collectively, there’s a considerable amount of evidence that strongly suggests that conductivity associated with mine drainage is causing impairment — biological impairment — in streams.

Keep in mind that the board ruled 3-2 in this case, even after Gov. Tomblin last year replaced the two board members considered most favorable to environmentalists and citizen groups.  You can read the full EQB ruling here.