WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a coal company fighting to reinstate a water pollution permit for a West Virginia mountaintop mine, a decision federal lawmakers are taking issue with.
The justices say they will not disturb a federal appeals court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency acted within its authority in 2011 when it retroactively vetoed a permit issued four years earlier by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Spruce Mine in Logan County.
St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc. and its Mingo Logan Coal Co. subsidiary challenged the appellate ruling concerning the mountaintop removal coal mine.
"Although our courts have determined that EPA's actions were permissible, my position on Spruce Mine has been clear - the EPA never should have retroactively vetoed the permit," said U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
The court's decision sends a chilling effect to companies wanting to invest and grow when the EPA is allowed to retroactively revoke permits, said U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.
"Invalidating a permit years after it is issued sets a bad precedent for not only mining, but any business that relies on permits to operate,'' he said. ''How many banks would loan money to a manufacturer or a small business knowing that the EPA could do the same?"
"For the past five years, the EPA has been given unprecedented power by the Obama Administration and this is just another example," said McKinley. "This puts billions of dollars in investments along with thousands of jobs in jeopardy."
Arch Coal's appeal had the support of 27 states.
"It's disturbing that the EPA based its decision to revoke a permit on the Obama Administration's ideology rather than the sound engineering of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," McKinley said. "Permits should be based on science, not ideology. The EPA should not be overstepping its bounds to conflict with the Army Corps of Engineers."
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the EPA's decision on the mine permit denies southern West Virginia hundreds of jobs.
''I am deeply disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear this appeal,'' she said.
Allowing the EPA to retroactively veto a permit puts thousands of jobs at risk across all industries - coal, agriculture, construction and more, Capito said.
''I have introduced legislation, the Coal Jobs Protection Act, in the House that would put an end to the EPA's abuses of power, and I will continue to work to protect West Virginia's jobs," she said.
When he was the governor of West Virginia, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., filed the lawsuit against the EPA for allegedly overreaching its authority under the Clean Water Act after the Spruce Mine permit had been approved after a 10-year regulatory process that included a review by the EPA.
"I am extremely disappointed that our country's highest court declined to hear such a monumental case that not only affects West Virginia coal mining jobs, but also impacts business decisions across the board," Manchin said. "After the Corps of Engineers approved Spruce Mine's permit, the company spent almost five years spending millions of dollars to comply with the EPA's regulations as they moved forward with this project that would have created about 200 good-paying jobs with benefits.
"How can any business confidently invest, when the EPA regularly changes the rules? No one should be allowed to change the rules in the middle of the game. Once a permit has been approved, it should not retroactively be revoked. American investment and business confidence start with consistency in our laws and certainty in the marketplace. We simply cannot afford to stifle energy production and good-paying jobs,'' Manchin said.
The case of Mingo Logan Coal Co. v. EPA 13-599 now goes back to a federal district court in Washington.