On Sept. 21, in its last act before the election, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed H.R. 3409, a package of five bills it calls the “Stop the War on Coal Act,” claiming that environmental regulations are the real enemy of economic prosperity. Each of the bills would, in one way or another, decrease or undo protections under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, allowing coal companies and electric utilities more room to pollute air and water. H.R. 3409 is unlikely to pass the Senate and the Obama administration has said it would veto the act without consideration. West Virginia Democratic Senator John Rockefeller expressed the futility of the legislation, saying, “This is yet another effort by House Republicans to score political points by pushing bills they know won’t become law instead of working to find actual solutions.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has appealed a federal court decision that struck down its 2011 Cross-state Air Pollution Rule, calling for a full review of the court’s statement that the agency had overstepped its authority and that the standards were too strict. The Cross-state Rule focuses on the reduction of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions — the majority of which are emitted from coal-fired power plants — and according to the EPA would benefit the health of more than 240 million Americans in 28 states. Judge Judith Rogers, the dissenting judge in the 2-1 vote, stated that the majority opinion resulted in “the endorsement of a ‘maximum delay’ strategy” against regulations aimed at reducing emissions. The court ordered the agency to continue pollution enforcement under the less stringent 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule until a viable replacement can be issued.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will appeal a July 31 ruling by a federal court dismissing its “guidance” rule on surface mine permitting in Appalachia. Finalized in 2011, the guidance rule sought increased scrutiny on surface mine permit applications, recommended limits on water conductivity, and including requirements for more detailed studies of how mining impacts could be reduced or avoided. The court’s ruling does not prevent the EPA from denying mountaintop removal permits that violate the Clean Water Act. A statement from the agency said that it will continue efforts “to protect public health and water quality for Appalachian communities under the law.”
A report by the National Resources Defense Council ranked states according to air pollution from the electric power sector and coal-fired power plants in particular. The Toxic 20 included all of the Central Appalachian states, with Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and North Carolina in the top ten. The report notes that pollution levels are declining due to new pollution standards, citing some power companies’ decision to invest in pollution controls before new standards come into effect and predicts that reduction in mercury and sulfur dioxide emissions will continue due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics standard that was finalized in 2011.
Recently, one pilot’s contributions in providing a bird’s-eye view of mountaintop removal mining operations in Central Appalachia were recognized by the National Aeronautic Association and the Air Care Alliance. Susan Lapis, a volunteer pilot with Southwings since 1999, was awarded the NAA’s “Distinguished Volunteer Pilot” award “for her enormous contributions using her aviation skills to protect the natural heritage, communities and ecosystems of the Southeast.”