Cumberland Times-News

December 29, 2010

Delegate proposes coal permit act

Emily Newman
Cumberland Times-News

— KEYSER, W.Va. — At a time when West Virginia state unemployment is at a decade-high rate, Delegate Gary Howell of Keyser has a proposed solution that would bring at least 500 to 1,000 jobs to the state and, he says, create thousands more in trickle-down employment.

“It will create 500 to 1,000 jobs directly involved and thousands others like truck drivers, surveyors and a college kid who gets hired at the convenience store for the shift change,” said Howell.

Howell’s proposed Intrastate Coal and Use Act would take the power to issue permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and bestow it to the state, specifically, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. The bill would only apply to those mines that are keeping the coal within the state, not selling any of it out of state. That would allow the approximately 80 coal mines statewide that are waiting on approval from the EPA to receive it from the state. Senior Vice President of the West Virginia Coal Association, Chris Hamilton of Charleston, said of that number, there are mines seeking all levels of permitting.

Howell backs his bill with the application of the Ninth and 10th amendments, both of which outline state and federal rights, saying that the control the EPA exerts over production and distribution of coal in a particular state is unconstitutional. The reason being, the regulation of intrastate commerce is not a power specifically granted to the federal government by the Constitution and therefore is reserved for either the state or the people.

“I believe the federal government has gotten too big, and they are over-stepping their bounds,” said Howell.   

Howell cites the state of Virginia’s recent victory in its case of the Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, where the U.S. Supreme Court deemed President Barack Obama’s health care bill unconstitutional, as a precedent for his case.  

Howell also stressed that despite the EPA no longer being part of the inspection process in his proposed bill, the safety and environmental requirements would reflect those of EPA standards.

Nationally, Howell said that there are more than 100 mines that are waiting for the proper permits from the EPA to begin operation. Howell has received calls from representatives in other states, such as Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama, who are interested in his bill due to their own state’s mine status.

Howell also hopes for bipartisan support, saying that the bill is not party-oriented, but a “put West Virginia back to work bill.” In addition to the creation of jobs, the bill would provide West Virginia with a more secure supply of coal, which will ultimately lower the rates.

The West Virginia Coal Association is backing Howell on his efforts.

“We look forward to working with Howell in his capacity. ... We hope that (his bill) stimulates good discussion over the permits,” said Hamilton.

He also said that while they back the initiative, they have not been able to determine the scale of the positive impact on the state, adding that Howell’s numbers of unemployment are a good estimate.

Hamilton cites the recent administration for the cause of the delay of permits.

“It seems like the EPA, under this administration, seems to be trying to balance work in the coal area with the president’s insistence that energy be created by renewable resources,” said Hamilton, adding there is a “tremendous resistance to central Appalachian coal production.”

According to the West Virginia Coal Association’s website, West Virginia is second in the nation, behind Wyoming, in coal production and is the leader in underground mining production.

Attempts to reach coal companies with permits pending in West Virginia were unsuccessful.

The assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Water was not available for comment.

Emily Newman can be contacted at enewman@times-news.com.