Front Porch Blog

Senators McConnell And Rand Paul Introduce Legislation To Gut The Clean Water Act.

U.S. Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky have introduced legislation into the United States Senate that if passed would muddy up The Clean Water Act, and preclude the ability of the EPA to provide adequate protections to drinking water and mountain communities in the coal bearing regions of Appalachia.

Senators McConnell and Paul are framing this legislation as a way to protect coal jobs, when in reality this bill is a further attempt to make sure harmful mines, and our nation’s largest polluters are immune to any meaningful regulatory scrutiny.

The Mining Jobs Protection Act, introduced Thursday morning seeks to revoke a vital power that allows the EPA to veto dangerous mining permits. The bill also significantly reduces the time line the EPA has to scientifically evaluate potentially harmful mountaintop removal permits. Under section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act the EPA is granted the authority to veto a project if the project would cause “significant degradation of municipal water supplies (including surface or ground water) or significant loss of or damage to fisheries”. This is a rarely used tool of the EPA, and that have exercised their veto power only 13 times in the 40 year history of the Clean Water Act- most recently, vetoing the Spruce No. 1 mountaintop removal mine in southern West Virginia.

The Spruce No. 1 Mine was the largest ever proposed surface mine in West Virginia history. The mine would have buried 6 miles of high quality streams, and destroyed 2,278 acres of mountain ridges. Senator McConnell andCaption here
The Senators’ proposed legislation is designed to specifically allow the reversal of the Spruce Mine decision. In a region of the country where mountaintop removal mines have already buried over 2000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams in a witch’s brew of heavy metals and chemicals such as arsenic, lead, chromium, mercury, and selenium, this protection in critically important.

The bill would also drastically reduce the time frame is which the EPA can scientifically assess potential water quality and community impacts from mountaintop removal coal mining operations and other fill activities regulated under section 404. The bill gives EPA only thirty days from the day the Corps sends the proposed permit to complete a preliminary analysis of the permit, to notify the Corps of any concerns it has, and provide the Corps a list of measures required to fully address those concerns. The bill then allots only 30 more days (the current time frame under existing regulations is 6 months) for the EPA to analyze a permit, take public comment, and use its veto authority.

This significantly reduced time line would force the EPA to rush through permits they are currently evaluating, causing a hemorrhage of mining permits that would be approved without adequate analysis of potential impacts. Senators McConnell and Paul are framing this legislation as way to protect coal jobs, when it reality, this bill is a further attempt to make sure harmful mines, and our nation’s largest polluters are immune to any meaningful regulatory scrutiny.

Moreover, because the bill applies to all pending permits, and the 60-day time line for required EPA action runs from the date at which the Corps transmits the proposed permit to EPA for review, it appears that the bill also would preclude any possibility of EPA using its veto authority on any pending permits. This has the potential to cause a disastrous situation in Appalachia where dangerous permits would be rubber-stamped, leading to more blasted mountains and poisoned streams.

As Austin Hall, our field organizer, was quoted in the Henderson Gleaner as saying, “The EPA is taking the proper and needed steps to scientifically evaluate these permits and to seriously take into consideration the impacts that mines in Appalachia will have on adjacent communities, to ensure the water quality is protected, to ensure that livelihoods are protected and to ensure that property is protected.”

This is one more serious attack on a growing list of attacks on the Clean Water Act from coal state representatives. Appalachian Voices will continue to fight and oppose short-sighted and dangerous legislative efforts that threaten clean water.




AV Mountain border tan1

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Bev Furnish on March 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Since they probably drink bottled water, they don’t care about anyone but their buddies, big business and themselves.

Leave a Comment