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Capito Blasts EPA for Focus on the Environment

Even as the White House is on the hot seat over claims that it’s been too lax on mining safety, one coal-country lawmaker has already shifted focus, ripping into federal regulators for being too strict on environmental protection.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the lone Republican representing West Virginia on Capitol Hill, blasted the Obama administration Wednesday over recent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency to rein in mountaintop coal mining for the sake of protecting local streams. That move, Capito said, “only confirms their anti-coal agenda.”

“Decisions being made by federal environmental regulators are not focused enough on the importance of coal to the economy,” Capito said during a House hearing examining coal’s future in U.S. energy policy. “In my conversations with Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, she said that she explicitly omits economic considerations from her decision-making process.”

For the EPA to focus only on environmental protection, Capito says, is “particularly troubling.”

Earlier this month, the EPA announced that it would apply a new, stricter set of standards to proposed mining projects in Appalachia. Before EPA will approve new mining permits in that region, the agency announced, companies will have to show that they won’t raise the toxin levels in nearby streams above a certain level. The move largely targets the technique known as mountaintop removal, in which companies literally lop the peaks off of mountains to access the seams of coal inside. The process is popular with the industry because it’s cheap. But it also ravages neighboring communities, poisons headwater streams, causes flooding and contaminates the air.

The new standards will apply to all future Appalachian mine proposals, as well as the nearly 80 pending permits that the EPA announced last year it would scrutinize more closely.

The delays haven’t made Capito happy, who said Wednesday that they would “jeopardize jobs in Appalachia and weaken energy security for the nation.”

Mining safety officials only wish they were being criticized for being too strict.

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