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EPA seeks to combine mining lawsuits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lawyers are seeking to combine a series of lawsuits by state regulators and coal industry groups that oppose the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal coal mining.

As part of this effort, EPA lawyers asked a federal judge in Charleston to transfer West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's suit against federal regulators to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Justice Department lawyers, representing the EPA, told U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver they would also been seeking to transfer two cases filed in federal court in Kentucky to D.C.

"The interests of justice require that all of these cases be consolidated in a single action because all of the complaints challenge the same agency actions, they raise common questions of law and fact, they assert identical claims, and they seek identical relief," the EPA lawyers said in a court filing.

"Judicial efficiency will be served by resolution of all claims in a single court," the lawyers said. "Moreover, if judicial review of the challenged actions were to proceed in different courts, there would be a risk of inconsistent outcomes and potential appeals to three different Circuit Courts of Appeal."

In the D.C. court, a suit is pending in which the National Mining Association challenges the EPA's more rigorous reviews of Clean Water Act permits for mining operations and the agency's new water quality guidance for such permits. Separate cases are pending in Kentucky, filed by the Kentucky Coal Association and by the state of Kentucky.

Generally, the suits all allege the EPA bypassed required procedures by starting the tougher permit reviews and imposing the water quality guidance without first completing public review and comment on the actions.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced her agency's actions in response to a growing body of science that shows mountaintop removal is causing widespread and irreversible damage to Appalachia's forests, water quality and communities.

Coal industry supporters argue that mountaintop removal is highly efficient, that EPA's water pollution guidelines are practically impossible to meet, and that the Obama administration's actions also affect underground mining and coal preparation plant permits.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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