I was a Member of this Committee, as of course you were, Mr. Chairman, when we passed major amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 in the form of the Clean Water Act of 1977, and as well, the last time significant amendments were made by the Water Quality Act of 1987.
In 1977, I was a freshman Member of this body, and in addition to passing amendments to the Clean Water Act that year, the Congress also enacted the landmark Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
That is the federal law which regulates surface coal mining and reclamation in the United States, short of water quality considerations where the Clean Water Act picks up.
Ever since 1977, there has been an attempt to dovetail these two laws. At times, they have worked relatively well together. But there also have been conflicts between them, as we are seeing in the Appalachian coalfields today.
The Surface Mining Act explicitly provides for the practice known as mountaintop removal mining under a prescribed set of circumstances. Meanwhile, under the Clean Water Act, companies engaging in this activity are required to obtain their section 401 certification, NPDES permit, and section 404 permits.
The situation we face today in the Appalachian coalfields is that the EPA has invoked its authority to, for the lack of a better term, “second guess” the Army Corps of Engineers issuance of section 404 permits.
At stake are not just 79 mining permits now subject to what is being called an “enhanced review process,” but also, and more fundamentally, the future of surface mining. In fact, many of my constituents believe that the future of coal – all coal – is at stake.
There is a great deal of frustration and concern in the Appalachian coalfields as a result of the current review. I have to say that I share that concern.
For many years, coal miners, coal operators, mining community residents, state agencies and those of us representing coal regions, have sought clarity and certainty about the permitting process. We want to know what the rules are so that miners can stay on the job and continue to fuel America.
We all want to do right by the environment. Of course. But we must also protect coalfield jobs and the economy.
So I would like to thank EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for maintaining an open line of communication with me on this matter.
We have had several meetings already, and will have more in the future. As well, I would like to express my appreciation to Assist-ant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy for discussing these isues with me.