EPA acted on coal mine emissions – just not the way WildEarth wanted

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told a federal court that its decision not to regulate methane emissions from coal mines, which was done for budgetary reasons, means that a November 2011 lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians is now moot.

In the lawsuit, WildEarth Guardians and other environmental groups alleged that EPA unreasonably delayed acting on a petition for rulemaking they had submitted to the agency. But, on April 30 EPA took final agency action denying their petition for rulemaking, saying it didn’t have the budget to draw up coal-mine regulations.

“Thus, EPA has taken the action that the Plaintiffs allege was unreasonably delayed, and there is no further remedy that the Court can provide,” EPA told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in a June 4 filing. “Accordingly, the Complaint is now moot and the Court should dismiss this matter for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.”

In its April 30 decision, EPA stated that “EPA is denying the June 2010 petition to add coal mines to the Clean Air Act section 111 list of categories and declining to initiate the requested rulemaking at this time. This is EPA’s final agency action on this petition.”

The letter to the environmental groups that went with that decision explained that the agency has a large number of obligations, limited resources, and ongoing budget uncertainties, and thus must prioritize its regulatory actions. The letter concludes by explaining that EPA has determined that it cannot reallocate resources from other priorities to conduct the agency action requested by plaintiffs at this time.

“Although EPA’s letter does not foreclose the possibility that EPA will consider such action in the future, the letter unequivocally denies Plaintiffs’ Petition,” EPA told the court. “Thus, there is no further relief that the Court can grant in this action. If Plaintiffs wish to challenge the substance of the denial of the Petition, they must seek review in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit pursuant to CAA Section 307(b), 42 U.S.C. § 7607(b).”

Notable is that intervenors in the lawsuit are Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU), the nation’s largest coal producer, and the National Mining Association. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and any major restrictions on venting it from coal mines during the production process would potentially devastate the coal industry.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.