When We Said ‘Jobs’ We Didn’t Mean Coal Jobs. Perish the Thought.

By January 27, 2011Energy, Regulations

The Associated Press has acquired a report from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement that reveals the Obama Administration’s regulatory plans could wipe out coal-related jobs all across the United States. From “Govt: New rules would cut thousands of coal jobs“:

[The] agency’s preferred rules would impose standards for water quality and restrictions on mining methods that would affect the quality or quantity of streams near coal mines. The rules are supposed to replace Bush-era regulations that set up buffer zones around streams and were aimed chiefly at mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

The proposal — part of a draft environmental impact statement — would affect coal mines from Louisiana to Alaska.

The office, a branch of the Interior Department, estimated that the protections would trim coal production to the point that an estimated 7,000 of the nation’s 80,600 coal mining jobs would be lost. Production would decrease or stay flat in 22 states, but climb 15 percent in North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

This latest attack against the No. 1 energy source in the United States aligns with the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to revoke an already approved mining permit for a West Virginia operation. Not just was the EPA demonstrating its hostility toward coal, its caprice undercut the regulatory certainty that employers and investors demand.

Indeed, it’s not too much to say the EPA’s decision undermined the rule of law. The Washington Post published an excellent letter explaining the threat Sunday, “The EPA’s unprecedented reversal on a permit,” by John Sitilides, founder of Trilogy Advisors LLC.

In examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority to revoke a permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Jan. 14 news story “Obama administration cracks down on mountaintop mining” described the precedent of 12 such actions under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The article omitted one overridingly critical element: Those actions involved only pending approvals of permits. This is the first time the EPA has revoked a permit it had already approved during the interagency consultative process.

Far beyond the decision’s impact on coal mining, the EPA’s “ends justify the means” action sends notice to every business sector that federal permits involving environmental impacts can be overturned or revoked. Compounding the significant regulatory uncertainty created by last year’s health-care and banking-finance legislation, this unprecedented action will further hamper the Obama administration’s efforts to promote economic growth and job creation in the months and years ahead.

The EPA’s announcement on Jan. 13 it was revoking the Spruce No. 1 Mine’s permit came just a day after new West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin delivered his State of the State that made a powerful case for coal’s economic future.  “Coal has a future,” he declared! “No it doesn’t,” the EPA responded. You can imagine the governor’s office was not pleased at the Obama Administration.

Members of Congress are taking action. From The Hill, “Lawmakers from West Virginia and Ohio introduced a measure Wednesday that would prevent EPA from vetoing Clean Water Act permits that have already been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.” The bill is H.R. 457.

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