RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – The Fourth Circuit overturned a ruling Thursday that had required the Environmental Protection Agency to report how its regulations affect employment in the coal industry.
The three-judge panel held that the Clean Air Act, the law at the heart of the lawsuit filed by the Murray Energy Corp., does not open the door to forcing the EPA to conduct a coal job study.
Last year, U.S. District Judge John Preston Bailey, of the Northern District of West Virginia, ruled the EPA had to prepare a report on how Clean Air Act regulations affected employment in the state’s coal industry.
The Murray Energy had argued the Act compelled such reports, citing a provision that requires ongoing job evaluations.
However, while Judge Bailey agreed with that interpretation, the Fourth Circuit did not.
“This statutory language, in our view, does not impose on the EPA a specific and discrete duty” subject to lawsuits, wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Henry Franklin Floyd on behalf of the panel. “Rather, Section 321(a) — when read as a whole — imposes on the EPA a broad, open-ended statutory mandate.”
“The EPA is thus left with considerable discretion in managing its Section 321(a) duty,” Floyd continued. “The agency gets to decide how to collect a broad set of employment impact data, how to judge and examine this extensive data, and how to manage these tasks on an ongoing basis. A court is ill-equipped to supervise this continuous, complex process.”
The ruling came two days before the deadline that the lower court had given the EPA to submit a preliminary report to the court as well as a plan to complete a more comprehensive review of the issue.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 and Obama administration officials handled the defense throughout the litigation.
Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, has been a vocal and constant critic of the Obama administration era’s EPA regulations and has repeatedly blamed his administration for the downturn of mining jobs.
Murray has said that he feels that the Trump administration will “level the playing field” with renewable energy sources by eliminating the subsidies Obama gave those energy producers. “Get the government out of picking winners and losers. We have to get the government out of the manipulation of the energy markets.”
However, most energy experts, including the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, agree that the downturn of coal has been caused by “the economic, political, and geological forces aligned against coal- chief among them the increasing abundance of cheaper, cleaner, U.S.-produced natural gas, which dwarfs the impact that the federal government’s regulations have had on the coal industry.”
The Yale school’s website goes on to say that coal is simply not cost-effective for generating electricity, because natural gas, as a result of the shale gas revolution, has caused coal’s decline, from its historically dominant position. Furthermore, because wind and solar power now represents two-thirds of all new electricity generating capacity in the United States, coal isn’t cost-effective.
Furthermore, in central Appalachia, which is Murray’s domain, easily accessible coal seams have all but disappeared. Coal operators in West Virginia and Kentucky, for instance, are seeing an uptick in coal production costs because they are having to exploit harder to reach seams.
After President Donald Trump was inaugurated his administration also argued the EPA was not obligated to prepare in-depth job impact reports under the Clean Air Act.
Amy Graham, an EPA spokeswoman, said in a statement that the agency will take employment and other economic impacts into consideration when it proposes regulations.
A spokesman for the Murray Energy said the company is reviewing the decision and plans to appeal.
The initial appeal step would be to ask for an en banc rehearing of the case. If the Fourth Circuit declines, Murray could then appeal to the Supreme Court.