Trump Backers Bring Court Challenge for Big Coal

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WASHINGTON (CN) – The nation’s largest privately owned coal company has asked a federal judge to block regulations that it says, if enforced, could irreparably devastate the coal industry, trigger a wave of job losses and hurt the budgets of several states.

Murray Energy Corp., also the nation’s fifth-largest coal producer, filed the suit on Dec. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

It says enforcement of the Stream Protection Rule by the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement “flatly contradicts” mining stipulations laid out in the Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act of 1977.

Originally conceived to guard streams, fish and other aquatic wildlife, the Stream Protection Rule was implemented to limit subsidence and other dangers common to coal mining.

Defined as the gradual caving in of underground land, subsidence poses a threat to the flow of nearby streams and supplies of surrounding groundwater.

But Murray says the environmental concerns that prompted adoption of the rule were the result of surface mining or strip mining, not the longwall mining it practices.

The complaint says 57 percent of the nation’s coal-mining companies implemented the longwall method last year. Of Murray’s 13 active mines, which employ 6,000 workers, 11 use the longwall technique.

Compared with the traditional room and pillar mining technique, which Murray says generally achieves the extraction of small coal blocks, Murray says longwall mining is less costly, safer for miners and more efficient, allowing “removal of almost all coal in a coal block.”

Insisting that “groundwater levels and stream flow volumes typically return to pre-mining levels after a few months to a few years,” the complaint also says that any impact on streams by longwall mines is only temporary.

In addition to being the “most common and economically efficient form of underground coal mining,” Murray says the method is also the “most environmentally friendly type of any form of coal mining.”

Effectively “banning longwall mining will devastate coal communities, result in widespread job losses and hollow out state and local government budgets that rely on the revenue coal mining brings,” the complaint states.

Murray also argues that the regulation ignores congressional intent, quoting Section 1201 of Chapter 30. “It is therefore essential to the national interest to insure the existence of an expanding and economically healthy underground coal mining industry,” the code states.

Murray Energy spokesman Gary Broadbent noted in an email about the lawsuit that enforcement of the rule “flagrantly illegal, with no environmental benefit whatsoever.”

“The Obama administration’s so-called Stream Protection Rule, which bans the utilization of the longwall mining system beneath dry ditches, which are often 1,000 feet below the surface … is nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to destroy our nation’s underground coal mines and put our nation’s coal miners out of work,” Broadbent said.

Saying the rule was “illegally taken from the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977,” Broadbent emphasized that “Congress specifically said, at least three times, that the law applies only to surface coal mining” and that Murray would “vigorously pursue our lawsuit to block this illegal rule.”

President-elect Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to reopen mines and revitalize the coal-labor force. Murray Energy donated more than $100,000 to Trump’s campaign, securing a spot as his top energy PAC contributor.

It is believed that hearkening to coal’s glory days helped Trump win the battleground state of Ohio as well as Pennsylvania, which went red in November for the first time since 1988.

Also on Dec. 22, Murray petitioned the D.C. Circuit to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross State Air 1Pollution Rule, which sets limits on soot and smog production.

A representative from the Interior Department said it would not comment on pending litigation.

Murray Energy operates 11 active mines at 13 separate mining complexes sprawling the country. According to the complaint, Murray hauled in almost 60 million tons of coal. It currently owns 2.2 billion tons of “proven or probable coal reserves” in the United States.