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Oct. 17 — The Environmental Protection Agency must review how its Clear Air Act regulations affect employment, particularly in the coal industry, a federal judge ordered Oct. 17 ( Murray Energy Corp. v. EPA , N.D. W.Va., No. 5:14-cv-00039-JPB, 10/17/16 ).
In a significant victory for Murray Energy Corp., Judge John Preston Bailey from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ordered the EPA to submit a plan within 14 days to evaluate how its air pollution rules relate to job losses as required by Section 321 of the Clean Air Act. A report that failed to account for job losses in the coal sector, in particular, would be “an abuse of discretion,” Bailey said.
“With specific statutory provision like Section 321(a), Congress unmistakably intended to track and monitor the effects of the Clean Air Act and its implementing regulations on employment in order to improve the legislative and regulatory processes,” Bailey said. “The legislative record for these statutory provisions, as well as Supreme Court precedent, confirm this purpose.”
Murray Energy had argued rules such as toxic pollutant emissions standards and carbon dioxide limits for power plants were detrimental to the coal industry and that those job losses were not being properly accounted by the EPA.
Conducting the review will entail more than simply tallying the cumulative job impacts of the EPA’s various air pollution regulations, Jerry Ellig, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, told Bloomberg BNA. Instead, the agency will need to evaluate how its suite of regulations are affecting various industries, including coal mining, he said.
What effect the EPA’s analysis may have on its regulations remains to be seen.
“It depends on how careful and thorough a job they do. In the rare cases where federal agencies have looked at employment impacts of regulations, they’ve tried to predict employment impacts of a single regulation and they often find that there’s isn’t much of an impact,” Ellig said.
James Goodwin, senior policy analyst with the Center for Progressive Reform, questioned how the analysis will ultimately benefit Murray Energy or the larger coal industry. Though Bailey ordered the review, Goodwin said that Murray Energy never explained how conducting the review will prevent further job losses.
“I don’t see what the coal industry or petitioners get out of this other than making EPA look bad, which isn’t a remedy,” Goodwin told Bloomberg BNA.
In his order, Bailey had said that the results of the EPA’s evaluation could “have the effect of convincing the EPA, Congress and/or the American public to relax or alter EPA’s prior decisions.”
“At least 411 coal-fired power generating units in America have been closed or identified for closure by the Obama EPA, which is a loss of 101,000 megawatts of lowest cost electric power available across the Country,” Robert E. Murray, president and chief executive officer of Murray Energy, said in a statement. “Further, tens of thousands of coal miners have been put out of work, and their families are suffering. We are fighting to protect these workers, who only want to work in honor and dignity.”
The National Mining Association, which had joined the litigation, said the upcoming report would help hold the EPA accountable for past predictions about how its regulations would affect industries.
“The court properly rebuked EPA for representing that it sufficed for the agency to merely predict impacts but it was under no duty to later verify the actual outcomes,” Hal Quinn, president and chief executive officer of the association, said in a statement.
The EPA didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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