EPA shutdown of working mine sends industry wrong message

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency revoked the permit — approved and functioning — of one of the nation’s largest coal mines for unacceptable environmental impact, calling it “mountaintop removal.”

It’s the EPA’s first-ever ex-post-facto shutdown of an in-work industrial operation with a valid permit.

Pulling the permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia provoked howls of outrage from members of Congress, dozens of industry leaders, and conservatives everywhere.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, nailed it in a statement: “This puts job creators in the untenable position of knowing that the EPA, at any time, can intervene and prevent operations from moving forward after all the appropriate permits have been obtained.”

How could anyone, employer or employed, ever trust the federal government again? A coalition of 22 trade groups sent a letter to Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, asking for a meeting to petition the White House to save the Spruce permit.

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and board member of the American Conservative Union, said the permit revocation was “an abuse of executive authority, one example too many.”

The facts back Norquist: the Spruce permit was issued after an extensive 10-year review. Arch Coal paid for a required multimillion-dollar Environmental Impact Statement. Arch never violated the terms of the permit.

But the Obama EPA has been constantly hassled by Big Green groups, like the $84 million-a-year Sierra Club with its Stop Coal project, backed by big foundation grants, like the $3.8 million from the Sea Change Foundation “to reduce reliance on energy production from coal power plants.”

Peter S. Silva, the EPA official responsible for revoking the Spruce permit, resigned a day after his office made the controversial decision, effective Feb. 12. But Silva, a civil engineer from Southern California, defensively said that the decision “came from following emerging science.” More likely it came from following emerging Big Green politics.

It will be interesting to see where Silva lands after returning “to home and family.” He was senior policy adviser for the Metropolitan Water District for Southern California before he went to Washington. If Silva returns instead to some cushy foundation-funded think tank-welfare spot, it won’t be a surprise.

Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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