Coal industry officials and coalfield political leaders are furious over EPA's 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.
"We believe that the denial and revocation of [Clean Water Act Section] 404 permits has already threatened our economy and workforce," said Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
Wednesday's hearing focused mostly on EPA's decision to veto the corps' approval of the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history, Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce Mine in Logan County.
David Sunding, an economic from the University of California at Berkeley, said the Spruce Mine decision has other industries worried that EPA will step in to veto other permits that have already been issued by the corps.
But the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Timothy Bishop of New York, pointed out that over the last 39 years, EPA has used its veto authority only 13 times, while processing more than 2 million Clean Water Act "dredge-and-fill" permits.
"Two million permits set against 13 permits [vetoed] -- it seems a little bit difficult to argue that there is a level of uncertainty that is debilitating," Bishop said.
Stoner said that the Spruce Mine was "an exceptional circumstance," and EPA "is not contemplating" vetoes of "any other previously permitted surface coal mining projects in Appalachia."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.