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W.Va. Sues Feds Over|Mining Restrictions

(CN) - West Virginia sued two federal agencies Wednesday in an effort to loosen stricter rules on mountaintop coal mining put in place by the Obama administration in 2009.

Randy Huffman, as the state secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection Agency, filed the 53-page lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in West Virginia Federal Court.

The lawsuit seeks relief from actions taken by the EPA and the Corps that Huffman says "unlawfully seek out and target surface coal mining in West Virginia and five other Appalachian states.

"With these actions, EPA and the Corps have demonstrated a brazen disrespect for the notice-and-comment rulemaking that forms the backbone of proper regulatory action by giving the states and interested parties an opportunity to comment upon proposed rules before implementation."

Proponents say mountaintop mining is a cost-effective method, but critics worry that it destroys the landscape and releases toxic chemicals.

Federal permits for mountaingtop mining were easy to get until the EPA announced in 2009 tougher reviews of future projects.

The lawsuit says the feds "acted unilaterally in reliance on questionable scientific literature, much of which has not withstood proper review from the scientific community" when it created the tougher guidelines.

The state also says the federal agencies have been "chomping at the bit" to "take a stand against certain type of mining in select Appalachian states with utter disregard for the economic impact upon those people in those states." If unchecked, "they could sound the death knell for surface coal mining in West Virginia and five other Appalachian states."

The EPA, meanwhile, has defended the tougher guidelines.

During a news conference, Gov. Joe Manchin said Wednesday, "Over the past year and a half, we have been fighting President Obama's administration's attempts to destroy our coal industry and way of life in West Virginia.

"Through a series of questionable and unlawful actions, the U.S. EPA has implemented policies and procedures that have delayed the permitting process and halted the issuance of nine new permits."

He continued: "Sadly, the mining community has been held in limbo and forced to figure out how to navigate the permitting process on its own, only to have the federal government tell them what they like and don't like."

The state seeks a declaration that the EPA and the Corps violated the Administrative Procedures Act by issuing its rules without following formal procedures. It also wants the restrictions blocked as unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was filed by Benjamin Bailey with Bailey & Glasser in Charleston, W.Va.

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