McConnell to fight for KY coal jobs

KENTUCKY Senator Mitch McConnell unveiled legislation on Monday aimed at streamlining the Environmental Protection Agency's coal mining permit approval process.
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Mitch McConnell

Staff Reporter

On a tour through the Kentucky coalfields, the senator announced the Coal Jobs Protection Act which he said was a response to more than 4000 jobs lost in the state over the last 12 months.

The Senate legislation targets the EPA’s coal-mining permit approval process, which McConnell said was negatively impacting coal-mining jobs in Kentucky.

“Coal is a vital part of my state’s economy and a vital part of America’s energy portfolio,” he said.

“The EPA’s attack on this important Kentucky industry hampers the growth of jobs and it especially hampers the growth of small business – the greatest engines of job creation.”

McConnell was joined in Hazard, KY, by Representative Shelly Capito who will introduce a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

Senator Rand Paul is an original co-sponsor of McConnell’s legislation, which the pair plan to introduce next week.

McConnell said the EPA had turned the coal permitting process into a “back-door means” to shut down coal mines permanently by holding permits for too long and removing any level of certainty from the regulatory process.

“By playing this game of ‘run out the clock’ they have put many Kentucky mining operations into limbo and cost Kentucky thousands of jobs and over $123 million in coal severance money,” McConnell said.

“The EPA is changing the rules in the middle of the game. And they’ve done it all without a single vote in Congress.

“What EPA is doing is outside the scope if its authority, outside the scope of the law and represents a fundamental departure from the permitting process as originally envisioned by Congress.

“So if this administration won’t rein the EPA in, Congress will. Congress must.”

The legislation would require the EPA to act faster to approve or veto two of the permits needed to open or expand mines.

The EPA would have 270 days to consider the 402 permit that deals with potential run-off from proposed minesites.

If the agency takes no action in that time, the permit would automatically be approved.

The bill would give the EPA 90 days to begin the approval process for another of the required permits – the 404 permit that deals with the disposal of soil and rock removed to unearth coal.

It would also give the administration a year to conduct an environmental assessment of a proposed mine.

Failure to act within that timeframe would mean the permit is issued and that the permit wouldn't be subject to judicial review.

McConnell cited EPA statistics that showed nearly 40 402 Kentucky coal mine permits had been held up since 2008, costing small communities thousands of jobs and more than $123 million in coal severance money.

Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett said that EPA regualtions had “unfairly plagued” the state’s coal industry and he “strongly endorses” the bill.

“Passage of the bill would compel EPA to exercise its authority consistent with the rights of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, its local governments and the private sector including the Kentucky coal industry,” Bissett said.

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