WHEELING - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would "go on the clock" and have no more than 270 days to approve or reject a coal mining permit under legislation introduced Monday by U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.
The Coal Jobs Protection Act also would make it illegal for the agency to retroactively reject mining permits already granted, she explained.
Capito, R-Charleston, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced the legislation Monday in Hazard, Ky. McConnell plans to introduce the same legislation in the Senate.
The bill's intent is to "push back on the EPA overreach into the permitting process, which is negatively impacting coal-mining jobs in states like West Virginia and Kentucky," Capito said.
The EPA vetoed a 404 mining permit for West Virginia's Spruce Mine in Mingo County in 2011 after it was issued without objection in 2007.
A year later, a U.S. district court issued a ruling that the EPA overstepped its legal bounds in retroactively pulling the permit.
But last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., Circuit reversed the lower court's decision, noting the EPA does have authority to veto permits it believes were wrongly issued.
Capito explained the recent court ruling could result in the loss of hundreds of mining jobs in West Virginia. She also noted the lengthy time - often as long as 10 years - it takes the EPA to decide on a permit.
"We just want to put them on the clock," she said of the EPA. "They are not giving 'yes' or 'no' answers ....
"Under this bill, they have to decide within 270 days. If they don't, the permit goes forward."
The potential threat of having a permit pulled after millions of dollars have been spent on a project "chills investment" in West Virginia," Capito continued.
"This administration is doing everything it can to destroy the coal industry," she told those in Kentucky on Monday. "From President Obama stating that he wants to 'bankrupt' it, to the EPA holding the permitting process hostage, this administration is standing in the way of economic growth and driving up hardworking West Virginians' electric bills."
The EPA has turned the coal mining permit process into "an illegitimate, back-door means to shut down coal mines permanently, by sitting on permits indefinitely and removing any certainty from the regulatory process," McConnell added.
"The EPA is changing the rules in the middle of the game," he said. "And they've done it all without a single vote in Congress. What the 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."