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Appeals court overturns decision requiring EPA coal jobs report

Appeals court overturns decision requiring EPA coal jobs report
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A federal appeals court Thursday overturned a lower court’s decision that had required that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) write a report on how its regulations have affected coal industry jobs.

The Richmond, Va.-based Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the legal provision at issue does not allow for lawsuits to force the EPA to conduct coal job studies.

A West Virginia federal judge ruled last year that the EPA has to write a report on how Clean Air Act regulations impact coal-industry jobs. Coal mining company Murray Energy Corp. had sued to force the study, citing a Clean Air Act provision requiring ongoing job evaluations.

But the appeals court said that the section of the Clean Air Act allowing for lawsuits does not cover the coal jobs requirement.

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“This statutory language, in our view, does not impose on the EPA a specific and discrete duty” subject to lawsuits, the three-judge panel, all of whom were nominated by former President Obama, wrote in its opinion. “Rather, Section 321(a) — when read as a whole — imposes on the EPA a broad, open-ended statutory mandate.

“A court is ill-equipped to supervise this continuous, complex process.”

The ruling came two days before the deadline that the lower court had given the EPA to submit its first report on coal job losses and a plan for a more extensive one. The agency said it had devoted more than 100 staffers to the task and spent millions of dollars defending the case and working on the report.

The EPA does a certain amount of economic and job impact evaluations as part of the regulatory process, but the lower court had decided that that was not sufficient.

The case was filed in 2014 under the Obama administration, and Obama officials handled the defense throughout the litigation. While President Trump has painted himself as far more favorable to the coal industry, his administration nonetheless continued to argue that it was not obligated to prepare in-depth job impact reports.

EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said in a Thursday statement that the agency “will take the economic and job impacts of its proposed regulations into account consistent with its statutory requirements, regardless of the outcome of this particular case.”

Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent said the company is reviewing the decision and plans to appeal.

The initial appeal step would be to ask all 15 judges on the appeals court to rehear the case. If they decline, Murray could then appeal to the Supreme Court.

Murray sued the Obama administration numerous times over policies that CEO Bob Murray, a highly polarizing figure, deemed to be part of a “war on coal.”

Murray has also made news for suing media outlets that cover him critically. Last week, he sued HBO host John Oliver, claiming Oliver defamed him on his show “Last Week Tonight.”

— Updated at 11:45 a.m.