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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia regulators have sued the federal government, alleging the Obama administration skirted public involvement requirements as it implemented plans to reduce the damaging impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining.
Department of Environmental Protection lawyers also allege federal regulators have "invaded and usurped the authority" of West Virginia to police pollution from the state's coal industry.
Private attorneys, hired months ago by the DEP, filed their 52-page lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Charleston several hours after Gov. Joe Manchin announced plans for the suit during a news conference at the state Capitol.
"It's a shame when you have to take action against your own government, but sometimes it has to be done," Manchin said to reporters gathered in a room full of coal industry officials and United Mine Workers representatives.
The lawsuit targets two actions taken as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's promise to take "unprecedented steps" to reduce the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal across the Appalachian coalfields.
First, the suit challenges EPA's June 2009 agreement with the federal Army Corps of Engineers to more closely scrutinize Clean Water Act "dredge-and-fill" permits issued by the corps through a process known as the "Enhanced Coordination Procedure," or ECP.
Second, the suit seeks to block EPA from using water discharge permit guidance issued in April 2010 to limit pollution that scientists believe dangerously increases the electrical conductivity of streams below mining operations.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced these moves 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 actions also affect underground mining and coal preparation plant permits.
In their lawsuit and at Wednesday's press conference, state officials criticized EPA's tougher standards -- DEP lawyer Ben Bailey said they are "focused on mayflies as opposed to miners" -- but also acknowledged the suit deals less with the substance of the federal actions and more on complex procedural issues.
"We're not debating about those standards today," said DEP Secretary Randy Huffman. "We're debating the process they've used to implement those standards."
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges, among other things, that EPA violated federal law by implementing its new "conductivity" guidance before completing an ongoing process of public and scientific review. The suit also argues the enhanced EPA permit reviews amount to a federal rule that should also have undergone public review before it was implemented.