CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge dealt a blow Thursday to the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal coal mining, ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's more detailed permit reviews overstepped the agency's Clean Water Act authority.
The decision, by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, is a victory for the coal industry and for coalfield political leaders and coal-state regulators who challenged the EPA actions.
"We won," said Randy Huffman, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. "This was a 100 percent victory."
But the ruling decides only part of the case, and leaves standing EPA's new water quality guidance aimed at reducing pollution from the region's coal-mining operations. Legal arguments on the EPA guidance were scheduled to be heard in late October, but have been delayed until next June.
EPA officials issued a statement calling the court ruling a "procedural decision" that would not stop the agency's efforts.
"We will work under the law to meet our Clean Water Act responsibilities to keep Appalachian streams clean for drinking, fishing, and swimming and to assure environmentally responsible coal mining proceeds," said the statement from EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara<co both>. "We will work with our federal and state partners to protect the clean water, healthy watersheds, and jobs on which coalfield communities depend."
Environmental groups that intervened in the case downplayed the ruling,noting it has no effect on the new EPA water quality guidance.
"While the coal industry may have succeeded in part of one lawsuit againstgovernment agencies, we will continue to support the EPA in their role protecting US families, waters and local communities, and ensure that those protections become stronger," said Ed Hopkins, Director of the SierraClub's Environmental Quality Program. "We will continue working to protectmountains and streams, even as the coal industry tries to continue destroying them."
In the case, Walton is hearing combined challenges of EPA's permit crackdown filed by the National Mining Association, WVDEP, Kentucky state officials and several individual mining operators.