CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its powers by setting up water-quality criteria for coal mining operations in Appalachia, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton in Washington ruled that the EPA infringed on the authority given to state regulators by federal clean-water and surface-mining laws. A coal mining industry coalition sued the EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson, and the lawsuit was joined by West Virginia and Kentucky.

The ruling is the latest setback to the Obama administration’s attempts to crack down on mountaintop removal coal mining.

Last year, the EPA tightened guidelines on the practice of dumping waste from surface mine blasting into Appalachian valley waterways. Critics say that practice destroys the environment. The mining industry defends it as an efficient way to produce cheap power and employ thousands.

The EPA had written that the fundamental premise of its new guidelines was that “no discharge of dredged or fill material may be permitted” under any of three conditions: if the nation’s waters would be “significantly degraded”; if it causes or contributes to violations of a state’s water quality standard; or “if a practicable alternative exists that is less damaging to the aquatic environment.”

The National Mining Association, one of the plaintiffs, denounced the guidelines as a “jobs destroyer” and hailed Walton’s decision as a way to get miners back to work “by allowing the state permitting agencies to do their jobs.”

 


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