Judge nixes 'ridiculous' EPA request to block testimony in coal case

Judge nixes 'ridiculous' EPA request to block testimony in coal case

A federal judge ruled Friday that a lobbyist and former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official can testify for a coal company in its lawsuit against the agency.

The EPA had sought to block Jeff Holmstead, who led the EPA’s air pollution office under then-President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005, from appearing as an expert witness in Murray Energy Corp.’s case.

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The agency argued that Holmstead’s time at the EPA is a significant conflict of interest and his testimony would amount to little more than unreliable legal conclusions.

The EPA “effectively argues that, because Mr. Holmstead once worked at EPA, he should be disqualified from serving as an expert witness in any case adverse to EPA,” wrote Judge John Preston Bailey, based in Wheeling, W.Va. “That dog won’t hunt.”

As to the EPA’s claim that Holmstead lacks the scientific or technical expertise to testify, Bailey, a Bush appointee, responded, “Frankly, this argument is ridiculous!”

Holmstead has worked since 2007 at Bracewell, a law and lobbying firm. His clients have included Duke Energy Corp., Arch Coal Inc. and Southern Co.

Murray sued the EPA in 2014, saying it hasn’t properly accounted for or studied coal industry job losses resulting from its air pollution regulations, as required under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA has said in court briefs that its economic analyses released with every regulation comply with the requirements.

Murray attempted to compel EPA head Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Biden administration breaks down climate finance roadmap Obama to attend Glasgow climate summit White House puts together climate finance strategy MORE to give a sworn deposition in the case. While Bailey approved the request, a higher appeals court overruled him and let her avoid testifying.

Bailey has scheduled the trial for the lawsuit for next month.