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Public Statements

Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GIBBS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in strong support of H.R. 3409, the Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Infrastructure Protection Act. Almost four decades ago, when Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, Congress established a system of cooperative federalism by making the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, and the States partners in regulating the Nation's water quality and allocated the primary responsibilities for dealing with the day-to-day water pollution control matters to the States.

For most of these almost-four decades, this system of cooperative federalism between the EPA and the States has worked quite well. However, in recent years, the EPA has begun to use questionable tactics to usurp the States' role under the Clean Water Act in setting water quality standards and to invalidate legally issued permits by the States.

The EPA has decided to get involved in the implementation of State standards, second-guessing States with respect to how standards are to be implemented and even second-guessing EPA's own prior determinations that a State standard meets the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act.

The EPA also has inserted itself into the States' and the Army Corps of Engineers' permit issuance decision and is second-guessing States' and other agencies' permitting decisions.

EPA's actions increasingly are amounting to bullying the States and are unprecedented.

Title V of H.R. 3409 is the text of H.R. 2018, a bill that has already been approved by the House of Representatives overwhelmingly in a bipartisan vote. Title V of H.R. 3409 will clarify and restore the long-standing balance that has existed between the States and the EPA as co-regulators under the Clean Water Act and preserve the authority of the States to make determinations relating to their water quality standards and permitting.

The language in title V was carefully and narrowly crafted to preserve the authority of States to make decisions about their own water quality standards and permits without undue interference or second-guessing from the EPA bureaucrats in Washington with little or no knowledge of local water quality conditions.

Title V reins in EPA from unilaterally issuing a revised or new water quality standard for a pollutant whenever a State has adopted, and EPA already approved, a water quality standard for that pollutant.

Title V restricts the EPA from withdrawing its previous approval of a State's NPDES water quality permitting program, or from limiting Federal financial assistance for a State water quality permitting program on the basis that the EPA disagrees with that State.

Further, title V restricts the EPA from objecting to NPDES permits issued by a State. Moreover, title V clarifies that the EPA can veto an Army Corps of Engineers Clean Water Act section 404 permitting decision when the State concurs with the veto.

These limitations apply only in situations where the EPA is attempting to contradict and unilaterally force its own one-size-fits-all Federal policies on a State's water quality program.

By limiting such overreaching by the EPA, title V in no way affects EPA's proper role in reviewing States' permits and standards and coordinating pollution control efforts between the States.

The EPA just has to return to a more collaborative role it has long played as the overseer of the State's implementation of the Clean Water Act.

Detractors of this legislation claim that the bill only intends to disrupt the complementary roles of EPA and the States under the Clean Water Act, and eliminate EPA's ability to protect water quality and public health in downstream States from actions in upstream States.

In reality, these detractors want to centralize power in the Federal Government so it can dominate water quality regulation in the States. Implicit in their message is that they do not trust the States in protecting the quality of their waters and the health of their citizens.

Title V of H.R. 3409 returns the balance, certainty, and cooperation between States and the Federal Government in regard to the environment that our economy, job creators, and permit holders have been begging for.

I urge passage of H.R. 3409 and reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. GIBBS. Mr. Chairman, I will conclude and yield myself the balance of my time.

I want to thank my colleague from West Virginia, who is understanding of what's happening in the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the revocation of the permits.

As a freshman here in Congress, I've been here not quite 2 years, and I have witnessed one of the most egregious things I have ever seen--I call it un-American. I think maybe I will just talk for a couple of minutes here and give the example of what happened with that, which just blew me away when I learned what happened.

We had an operation in the State Mr. Rahall represents that went through 10 years of an environmental impact study--did everything they did, went beyond what they needed to do. In 2007, they were granted their permits and they started the operation up, the mining operation. In 2010, when this administration came into power, they revoked their permits. And I was arguing then that they didn't have the authority under the Clean Water Act to revoke the permit 3 years later, especially when there was no due reason, no cause.

We held hearings on this in my committee. What we discovered is that the State of West Virginia EPA did not support those actions, and the Army Corps of Engineers stated that there were no problems at the operation, there were no permit violations. So this is the first time in American history, I believe, that a permit to be in business was revoked when there were no permit violations.

Now, this sets a very dangerous precedent because lots of entities, not just in the coal industry, but lots of entities have to have a permit from the government to be in business. And if the government can come in and take your permit for no true cause, real cause, not in violation of the permit, who's going to invest? How are we going to grow this economy?

This is all about jobs and growing the economy. And so this is why it's so important that title V of this bill needs to be passed.

I want to applaud Mr. Rahall and his support of that because he understands what the workers in his State are going through, and as we saw this week, all the thousands of layoffs of coal miners because there is a war on coal, and it's a war on our economy and it lessens our opportunity and, in essence, our freedoms.

So I urge Members to support this bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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