U.S. District Judge: EPA Must Identify Coal Job Losses in Murray Energy Suit
WHEELING — The Environmental Protection Agency has until July 1 to determine whether actions taken since President Barack Obama took office directly resulted in coal industry job losses, according to an order U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey issued Wednesday.
With mere days left before Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy leave office on Jan. 20, Bailey held nothing back in the order he issued in Murray Energy Corp.’s lawsuit against McCarthy regarding the agency’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia.
“EPA can recommend amendments to Congress if it feels strongly enough, but EPA’s clear reticence to comply, coupled with eight years of refusal to comply — even in the face of congressional and public pressure — with the the Clean Air Act, justifies an injunction detailed enough to ensure compliance,” Bailey wrote. “It is time for the EPA to recognize that Congress makes the law, and EPA must not only enforce the law, it must obey it.”
The order specifically notes January 2009, when Obama took office, as the beginning of the time frame to measure the effect of EPA’s actions on job losses in coal mining and electricity generation. The agency must also identify facilities that are in danger of closing due to these regulations.
During the last eight years, the Upper Ohio Valley has seen Murray close both the Powhatan No. 6 Mine in Belmont County and the Red Bird Mine in Jefferson County, while the company has also reduced employment at its other Ohio and West Virginia mines.
Moreover, American Electric Power closed the coal-fired Kammer Plant in Marshall County, while FirstEnergy Corp. shut down the R.E. Burger coal power plant in Belmont County.
In Appalachia as a whole, AEP eliminated 5,535 megawatts of coal fired electricity in June 2015 when it closed several power plants. Mining job losses in southern West Virginia have left many in the unemployment line, while causing significant reductions in tax revenue for both the state and local governments.
Obama administration regulations that have threatened the future of coal mining and burning include the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent from 2005 levels; the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards; and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s Stream Protection Rule, which Murray officials maintain would make longwall mining virtually impossible.
President-elect Donald Trump has promised to overturn many of the EPA’s regulations on coal. He has appointed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA.
Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent said the company would be unable to comment on the ruling late Wednesday.