GOP Lawmakers Submit First Attempt To Limit EPA Oversight

On Wednesday, West Virginia and Ohio politicians David B. McKinley (R-WV), with co-sponsors Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Nick Rahall (D-WV), Bill Johnson (R-OH) and Bob Gibbs (R-OH), filed legislation (H.R. 457) restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to revoke permits issued by the Secretary of the Army.

The proposed bill amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and specifically Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act (which has only been used 13 times since 1972 - including two weeks ago when the EPA vetoed Spruce Mine No.1 in West Virginia). Retroactive to January 1, 2011, the EPA would lose oversight authority to revoke or veto a permit issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Despite the fact that the EPA never signed off on Spruce Mine No.1 and it was Arch Coal’s subsidiary Mingo Logan Coal Co. which refused to compromise with the EPA to limit excess pollution and stream destruction, the Republican freshman McKinley claims that his legislation is going after EPA for years of bullying coal companies.

Also on Wednesday, McKinley questioned the White House chief regulatory official on the EPA’s Spruce Mine decision, concluding:

We have a long way to go in this fight. This is just the first step. But the Obama administration and the EPA are now on notice that we will not sit idly by while their arrogance kills West Virginia jobs and threatens thousands more across the country.”

H.R. 457 is the first of many pieces of legislation expected from GOP and Tea Party lawmakers in both houses of the new Congress to cull the EPA’s mandate to enforce environmental protections. A little more than a week ago, on the same day as the West Virginia Rally for Coal, polluter friendly Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to his Senate colleagues urging them to cosponsor legislation opposing EPA authority:

In the coming weeks, I intend to pursue legislation to clarify, in no uncertain terms, that the EPA does not have authority under the Clean Water Act to reverse prior approvals of the USACE where a permit has been put through a rigorous regulatory process, including time for thorough review by the EPA for possible negative environmental consequences, and awarded by the USACE prior to any official objections from the EPA.”

I urge you, as a Member of Congress, to join with me in a bipartisan coalition to cosponsor sound legislation that restricts the EPA from putting jobs at risk by retroactively changing the rules on investments and business.”

Formally on notice, the EPA and environmental advocates had better dig in for a lengthy and protracted legislative battle over the agency’s future.