Last year, the EPA for the first time set limits on the amount of minerals that can be deposited in stream as the result of surface mining in Appalachian states. High levels of some minerals can harm aquatic life. The National Mining Association opposed the stricter standards and argued in a federal lawsuit that the agency had overstepped its authority by avoiding the federal government formal rule-making process, which requires formal notice and opportunity for public comment.
Judge Walton sided with the industry, writing that the EPA had infringed on the authority granted to states under the Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. He said his ruling didn't address how to strike a balance between "the need to preserve the verdant landscape and natural resources of Appalachia and, on the other hand, the economic role that coal mining plays in the region."
The ruling follows a separate one in March in which another federal judge said the EPA went too far by trying to revoke a permit for the largest planned surface mine in West Virginia's history, after that permit had already been issued. The EPA has appealed that decision.
The EPA could try to issue similar water-quality standards through the official rulemaking process. (WSJ, 7/31/2012)