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Attacks on EPA over coal continue at U.S. House hearing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal industry officials and U.S. House Republicans on Thursday continued their campaign against the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal mining, with another in a series of hearings focused on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permitting practices.

Fresh from House passage of a bill limiting the EPA's oversight of state water pollution regulators, a House subcommittee heard more complaints that federal officials have held up new permits and toughened water quality rules.

Members of a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee heard from coal executives and lobbyists. Also testifying was Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who does not serve on the panel, but appeared at the hearing to testify.

The hearing was titled, "EPA's Appalachian Energy Permitorium: Job Killer or Job Creator?"

One coal executive who testified also used Thursday's hearing to criticize new EPA air-pollution standards intended to protect public health and to speak out against a federal Mine Safety and Health Administration proposal to toughen the limits on coal dust that causes deadly black lung disease.

"They have declared war on coal," Tom Mackall, president of Ohio-based Sterling Mining, said of the Obama administration. "It seems as though the government is deliberately trying to stop us from mining and stop us from employing people."

Coal industry officials and coalfield political leaders are furious over the EPA's mountaintop removal crackdown, saying it has slowed the issuance of new permits to a trickle and prompted some companies to withdraw applications that haven't been approved.

"[The] EPA's interference knows no bounds," said Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, who also testified at Thursday's hearing.

EPA officials and citizen groups point to a growing body of scientific evidence that shows mountaintop removal is causing serious damage to Appalachian forests and streams, and to newer research that strongly suggests a link between mountaintop removal and adverse health effects.

Nancy Stoner, acting assistant EPA administrator for water, told lawmakers the Obama administration is making it a high priority to reduce the impacts of coal mining on Appalachia's environment, communities and residents.

"The costs of pollution are borne by the citizens of Appalachia," Stoner said.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, noted the recent West Virginia University study that found higher rates of birth defects in the communities near mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia.

"Mountaintop removal has created a public health crisis," Kucinich said. "Scientific research demonstrates that mountaintop removal is devastating to both the environment and the health of Appalachian communities."

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


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