A federal judge on Thursday ruled [judgment, PDF] against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] regarding its process for granting permits used by coal companies for mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia. The EPA unveiled stricter guidelines in 2009 to issue permits to companies who sought to dump fill material from the removal mining into streams. The National Mining Association (NMA) and several other plaintiffs, including the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) [official websites], filed suit in 2010, alleging that the EPA exceeded its authority under section 404 of the Clean Water Act [text] by overstepping its role in the permitting process, which is largely handled by the US Army Corps of Engineers [official website]. The plaintiffs further argued that the EPA violated the Administrative Procedure Act [text] when it did not allow for notice and comment procedures in its rulemaking process. The court ordered that the 2009 guidelines be set aside and that all permitting be handled via the pre-2009 guidelines. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) [official website] applauded [press release] the court's decision, stating that the decision "confirmed [the state's] assertions against the EPA." The EPA dismissed the decision [WSJ report] as "procedural" and assured families in Appalachia that it did not affect the agency's authority under the Clean Water Act to protect public health.
Last month, the US House of Representatives [official website] passed a bill [JURIST report] that would effectively block a number of proposed EPA regulations aimed at reducing emissions. The Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act 2011 would require the formation of a committee to perform economic impact analyses prior to promulgating any regulations. The possible effects to the economy of environmental regulations have made their passage and implementation difficult as of late. Earlier in September, Obama requested the withdrawal of national smog standards [JURIST report] proposed by the EPA. The draft Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards [materials] would have reduced the amount of smog emissions to between 0.060 and 0.070 parts per million (ppm) from the previous 0.075 ppm. The EPA estimates that these changes would help reduce the effects of climate change and improve public health, saving the US between $13 billion and $100 billion in health care costs. The stricter smog standards, proposed by the EPA in January 2010 [JURIST report], would have replaced the Bush administration's broader 2008 national smog regulations [text], complying with scientific recommendations. In his statement, Obama recognized recent efforts to improve environmental protection, but emphasized the need to trim down regulations in light of the economic downturn.