Today, Representative Mike Kelly (PA-03) submitted a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson requesting answers behind a policy reversal that partially rescinded a 19-year agreement between the EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP) regarding coal mining permit applications. As a result, over 60 permit applications have been sent to and remain backlogged within the EPA.
"For reasons unclear, the EPA recently extended the period of time that mining companies have to wait before getting a permit to mine for coal," said Rep. Kelly. "This prolonged permit process has impacted at least 20 companies, affecting the sale and production of coal at a time when access to energy is critical to the economic well-being of Pennsylvania and the nation."
Under the Clean Water Act, miners are required to get a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to ensure that industrial pollutants discharged into water sources are monitored, measured and reported to maintain the water quality standards established by the EPA. Since 1991, the EPA has authorized PaDEP to process and approve NPDES permit applications without EPA review or approval. In September of last year, the EPA partially reversed that 19-year precedent by requiring applications already reviewed through PaDEP's rigorous permit process to undergo additional scrutiny through the EPA.
"How can we meet our vast energy needs and grow our economy if we keep creating regulatory barriers that are duplicative in nature and don't allow our private sector industries to provide the products and services that literally fuel our nation?" said Rep. Kelly. "I look forward to hearing Administrator Jackson's justification for reversing a long-established process that has protected the environment while allowing the mining industry to create jobs and energy for the Commonwealth."
A bi-partisan group of Pennsylvania delegates joined Mr. Kelly in his call for answers, including Reps. Critz, Holden, Altmire, Thompson, Marino, Barletta, and Dent. The letter submitted to Administrator Jackson is below.
March 9. 2011
The Honorable Lisa Jackson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
Dear Administrator Jackson:
We write to you regarding our concern over a recent decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to partially rescind a 19-year Memorandum of Agreement between the EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PaDEP). We are unaware of any legitimate basis for the decision and EPA's duplicative review has resulted in significant delays that adversely impact jobs and energy consumers in Pennsylvania. We therefore request an immediate explanation for reversing 19 years of precedent.
In a September 2010 letter sent to PaDEP, the EPA notified PaDEP that it was "partially rescinding its waiver of permit reviews, pursuant to the 1991 MOA, and directed the Department to submit certain NPDES mine-related permit applications prior to permit issuance to EPA's Region III office for additional scrutiny. As a result of this change, over 25 NPDES permit applications have been sent to and remain with the Philadelphia Regional Office.
This duplicative review of applications is creating a significant backlog of mining permits. If this backlog persists, the results could be detrimental to our local economy and result in the Commonwealth losing a significant energy source.
In light of the potential impact this policy change may have on the Pennsylvania energy industry, we respectfully request answers to the following questions:
1. Has the PaDEP's review of NPDES permits since 1991 been in violation of the 1991 MOA? (If yes, please cite any specific violations.)
2. Why did the EPA partially withdraw its waiver of NPDES permit reviews after 19 years? Please provide the rationale or events that led to this policy change.
3. For which other industries has EPA revised its NPDES permitting agreements?
4. What assurances can you provide that NPDES permit applications being relayed to Region III by PaDEP will be timely reviewed and processed and the permit backlog eliminated?
5. Does the agency have a timeline for restoring Pennsylvania's NPDES administrative and permitting process as it was originally outlined in the 1991 Memorandum of Agreement?
We would respectfully request a prompt response. If you have any questions, please contact the office of Representative Kelly at 202-225-5406.
Rep. Mike Kelly
Rep. Tim Holden
Rep. Charlie Dent
Rep. Mark Critz