West Virginia seems to always be looking for ways to circumvent the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to issue coal-mining permits, and this time, the state may have found the way.

The Beckley Register-Herald reports that Gary Howell, a delegate to the lower house of the West Virginia Legislature, plans to introduce a bill to the state legislature that would allow in-state coal to be mined and regulated by West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection as long as it was used within the state’s boundaries. Currently the EPA oversees the permitting process for coal mines in the state.

Howell’s bill, The Intrastate Coal and Use Act, is said to have the maximum number of sponsors, so look for it to fly through the West Virginia Legislature. West Virginia is one of several states that have been in direct odds with the EPA for the better part of the last year. Along with several other lawsuits against the EPA, a former governor turned U.S. senator who shot a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill and the state’s senior senator’s attempts to delay regulations coming from EPA, West Virginia is getting a feisty reputation. Now, one of the state’s lesser-known politicians is getting in on the action with some heated anti-EPA rhetoric of his own.

Howell told the Register-Herald, “See, with the EPA, there’s regulations. They are not actually laws … they never go through Congress and are never voted on by our representatives. That creates soft tyranny because we have no choice in the matter.” Howell went on to take aim (not literal, just verbal aim) at “extreme” environmentalists whom he says, “want us to live in the caveman days.”

Howell’s tone is intense, but it also comes on the heels of two difficult years for anyone seeking a permit to mine coal in West Virginia. Of the nearly 80 surface mine permits applied for since 2008, only nine have been approved. Statistics like that hurt whatever favor the EPA has left in the Democratic-leaning state.

If Howell’s bill makes it through the West Virginia House of Delegates, the state senate and gain the signature of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, this could result in swift action within the state. The bill would become effective immediately, unlike the smilingly endless court cases the state is involved with. The immediacy of this legislation could swiftly lead to the issuing of new permits and new coal mines opening in a heavily mined state.

Of course, coal mining is often a target of environmentalists who point to several unsavory realities of the practice that include toxic fly ash, extremely dirty emissions and the destruction of mountaintops. And while all those talking points are decent ammunition in the fight against coal, Howell has a weapon of his own, the Ninth and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These two pieces of ammunition leave all powers not enumerated by the federal government to the states. If all of West Virginia’s coal is used inside the state, then that may free Howell from regulation under the Interstate Commerce Claus, and thus, he may have a point.

This will be an interesting debate to watch unfold in the coming months. 

West Virginia's latest plan to avoid federal regulation
A state legislator has an interesting and potentially viable way to avoid dealing with the EPA.