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Another EPA Smackdown by the Courts

The EPA is not off to a good start in 2012. Resourceful Earth reported last week that the Supreme Court ruled against EPA in the Sackett v.s. EPA case where the EPA seemed to think it had the authority to scare American citizens into submission by threatening them with millions of dollars in fines while allowing them no legal resource to question this claim prior to issuance of the fines. The Supreme Court ruled against the EPA 9-0, displaying just how far from lawful their actions were.

This week marks the second time this year that the courts have flatly informed the EPA that despite their desire to please environmentalists they are still required to abide by the law:

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is not authorized to withdraw a Clean Water Act permit that already was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“This is a stunning power for an agency to arrogate to itself when there is absolutely no mention of it in the statute,” Jackson wrote in a 34-page opinion that’s been highly anticipated by all sides in the mountaintop-removal debate.

Jackson called the language at issue in the law unclear and confusing, but said the EPA’s reading was not a reasonable interpretation.

The decision is a major victory not only for mine operator Arch Coal Inc. but also for the coal industry and for Appalachian political leaders who have been waging a bitter campaign against the EPA’s crackdown on mountaintop removal.

“We’re pleased the district court has ruled in our favor — confirming that our Spruce No. 1 permit remains valid,” said Kim Link, a spokeswoman for St. Louis-based Arch Coal.

Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said the ruling “struck another blow for restoring the rule of law and regulatory certainty by rejecting the EPA view that it has unbounded authority to retroactively revoke permits issued by another federal agency.”

The EPA did not comment on the ruling Friday.

The permit for the Spruce mine was originally granted by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the EPA retroactively vetoed the issuance of the permit. This was unprecedented; the EPA had never retroactively issued a permit since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

For those interested in the details, my colleague William Yeatman has more.

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