Opponents, though, said the Clean Water Act was passed 40 years ago in large part because federal oversight was needed because state agencies did little to regulate powerful and polluting industries.
"This bill is absurd," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. "It is designed to totally gut the Clean Water Act."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce voiced its support for the legislation and the National Mining Association said it "upholds the validity of state-approved permits in the face of EPA's arbitrary decisions to void them." Meanwhile, national and regional environmental groups have spent weeks trying to drum up opposition to the measure.
"Congress continues to insist that states protect their own water sources, but history has shown us that without federal oversight states let their rives burn, their lakes become dumping grounds for industrial waste and their streams die," said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for the group Earthjustice.
Wednesday' vote comes as the coal industry's political supporters in Congress continue to hammer away in their efforts to stop EPA from more closely reviewing mining permits and implementing new guidelines aimed at reducing coal pollution.
Prior to introducing their bill, Mica and Rahall staged a two-day hearing in May called "EPA Mining Policies: Assault on Appalachian Jobs." Another anti-EPA hearing in the GOP-controlled House is scheduled for today before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The hearing is called, "EPA's Appalachian Energy Permitorium: Job Killer or Job Creator."
Coal industry officials and coalfield political leaders are furious over 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.
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.
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., told fellow lawmakers about a new West Virginia University study that found a greater risk of birth defects among residents near mountaintop removal mining operations in Appalachia.
Earlier this week, the coal industry law firm Crowell & Moring issued an apology after four of its lawyers published an Internet client recruitment alert that said the WVU scientists should have considered whether inbreeding was a potential cause of the birth defects.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.