Rand Paul seeks to thwart EPA on coal permits

The bill would also prevent EPA from “retroactively” vetoing permits. Coal industry advocates were furious when EPA in January nixed a permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia after the large project won approval from the Corps in 2007. If passed, it would apply retroactively to undo EPA’s veto.

Mountaintop removal mining — in which companies blast away Appalachian peaks and push the debris into adjacent valleys — is the source of a battle between coal industry advocates and the Obama administration, which has increased scrutiny.

Environmentalists and other opponents of the practice want EPA and mining regulators to take a tougher approach, but the seven-month spending bill the House approved last month contains several provisions to scale back regulation.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) attacked the efforts to curtail regulation during the House debate.

"I know a lot of people try and justify mountaintop removal by saying this is an economic boom for the region. In fact, since mountaintop removal became a prevalent practice, mining jobs have actually declined by more than 50 percent," he said on the House floor.

"This is not good for the people of Kentucky and Appalachia, it is not good for their economy, and it is certainly not good for the environment," he added, standing next to before-and-after photos of peaks where mountaintop mines were developed, stating the projects are “poisoning streams, poisoning the people who live nearby, poisoning the water supply that feeds much of Appalachia.”

But McConnell called the new bill a way to protect his state’s economy. He said that coal — which provides half the nation’s electricity — employs 18,000 miners in his state and supports more than 200,000 other jobs.

“Yet, as we are faced with a weakened economy and high unemployment, an overreaching Environmental Protection Agency in Washington is blocking new jobs for Kentuckians and Americans by waging a literal war on coal,” he said.