One of the recurring debates over climate change policy is whether the EPA’s regulatory actions to control carbon emissions have caused the decline in the coal industry.
Coal critics typically attribute the industry’s collapse to natural gas becoming more plentiful and cheap and, in West Virginia’s case, the increased cost of mining smaller coal seams compared with western coal.
Coal industry supporters argue the regulations, specifically the proposed Clean Power Plan, are forcing coal out of business. They say the CPP (which is currently under challenge in court) sets unrealistic standards for burning coal in power plants.
Which is correct?
This week, a U.S. District Court in Wheeling ruled that the EPA has a legal responsibility to determine the economic impact of its decisions. Federal Judge John Preston Bailey ruled that Section 321(a) of the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to calculate coal mine layoffs and shutdowns as a direct result of its regulations.
“This Court further finds that, due to the importance, widespread effects, and the claims of the coal industry, it would be an abuse of discretion for the EPA to refuse to conduct a 321(a) evaluation on the effects of its regulations on the coal industry,” the judge wrote.
In making his ruling, the judge swatted away the EPA’s weak argument that the agency really didn’t have to say whether their regs caused anybody to lose their job, and even if it did, that information would not be public.
Judge Bailey made it clear the EPA is not above the law. “EPA cannot redefine statues to avoid complying with them,” he wrote. He gave the EPA 14 days to submit a plan to comply with the order.
Murray Energy President and CEO, Bob Murray, who brought the suit several years ago, welcomed the ruling. The EPA “must tell us how many coal miners’ jobs and lives and family livelihoods are being destroyed,” he said on Talkline Tuesday.
The judge’s ruling is significant. The originators of section 321(a) forty years ago intended for there to be cost-benefit analysis of EPA actions. A House Committee report said that under the provision “the (EPA) Administrator is mandated to undertake an ongoing evaluation of job losses and employment shifts due to requirements of the Act.”
Judge Bailey said, “Congress’ purpose in enacting the evaluations was to provide information which could lead the EPA or Congress to amend prior EPA actions.” If the EPA rules are job killers, those who make the rules—as well as the public—should have that information so they can weigh it against the perceived benefits, and thanks to the judge’s decision they will.