Court rules against EPA in case over coal job losses

Court rules against EPA in case over coal job losses
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not properly estimated the potential job losses in the coal and other industries affected by its regulations, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Judge John Preston Bailey of the District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ruled in favor of coal mining company Murray Energy Corp. saying the Clean Air Act gives the EPA administrator a “non-discretionary duty” to track the potential job losses and shifts in employment from regulations written under the act.

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The decision is a largely symbolic win for energy sectors hurt by EPA regulations, however, because there is no guarantee that job loss analyses would change the policies at issue.

Bailey, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, used his ruling to repeatedly admonish the EPA for arguing that its duty to track job losses is “discretionary" and that its current reviews are sufficient.

“With specific statutory provisions like Section 321(a), Congress unmistakably intended to track and monitor the effects of the Clean Air Act and its implementing regulations on employment in order to improve the legislative and regulatory processes,” Bailey wrote.

“The most EPA does is ‘conduct proactive analysis of the employment effects of our rulemaking actions,’ which is simply not what S 321(a) is about,” he said, quoting the agency’s argument.

“EPA cannot redefine statutes to avoid complying with them. Nor can EPA render them superfluous or contrary to their original purpose by simply defining them to be,” Bailey concluded.

Murray and the coal industry cheered the ruling.

“This is a great day for coal miners in the United States, and for all citizens who rely on low-cost electricity in America,” Bob Murray, the company’s president and an outspoken opponent of President Obama, said in a statement.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue this lawsuit, and all of our litigation initiatives, in order to protect the lives and livelihoods of coal miners and their families, to defend the rule of law, and to preserve reliable and low cost electricity in our country.”

The National Mining Association called it a major rebuke of the EPA.

“America’s coal miners scored an important victory today when a federal court told EPA that it could no longer ignore its ongoing responsibility under the Clean Air Act to evaluate the job losses arising from its stream of regulatory actions,” Hal Quinn, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The legal provision at issue states that the EPA “shall conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment which may result from the administration or enforcement of the provision of this chapter.”

It was enacted out of concern for industries like coal that could be hurt by environmental rules, with the expectation that lawmakers or regulators might use the data to inform their decisions. The court found that for at least 10 years after the 1977 law was passed, the EPA did conduct specific research to comply.

Job losses are usually part of the EPA’s normal rulemaking process. But Bailey found that to be insufficient.

Bailey ordered the EPA to prepare a timetable for the court in which it could write the job-loss predictions it should have completed under the law.

The litigation proceedings took about two and a half years.

Last year, Bailey granted Murray’s request to sit EPA head Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Pruitt blames staff for controversies | Ex-Obama official to head new Harvard climate center | Electric vehicles on road expected to triple Ex-Obama EPA chief to lead new center for climate change at Harvard Overnight Energy: Pruitt’s security cost .5m in first year | Watchdog clears Perry's use of military, charter flights MORE down for a sworn deposition as part of the lawsuit. But the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the decision.

The EPA can appeal Bailey’s ruling to the federal 4th Circuit.