On October 7, 2004, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in the case of Citizens Coal Council et al. v. EPA in which the Coal Council and Kentucky Resources Council sued to invalidate the EPA rules relaxing pollution standards on coal remining and western alkaline mining operations. CCC and KRC had challenged a January 2002 EPA rulemaking that created two new categories of coal mining water pollution limits - one for remining operations and the other for western coal mines, and which eliminated enforceable pollution limits for those operations in favor of unenforceable and unpredictable "best management practices."
In a 2-1 decision, the entire EPA rule was invalidated and EPA was directed to either withdraw the final rule or issue a new one consistent with the court's opinion.
The Court of Appeals held EPA's remining rules to be invalid because EPA failed to set standards based on the degree of effluent reduction that mining operations could achieve. EPA's approach of using background site conditions as the only enforceable effluent limitation runs afoul of the law, according to the court.
On the western alkaline coal mining subcategory, the Court likewise invalidated those rules on the basis that setting non-numeric effluent limitations based on background conditions "shirks" EPA's duty to determine in terms of the amount of pollutants, the degree of reduction attainable by the application of various levels of technology.
The decision is a significant victory for the Citizens Coal Council, coalfield citizens in the east and western US, and KRC. The plaintiffs were represented by Tom FitzGerald, Kentucky Resources Council, with assistance on the brief from Walt Morris. To read the decision in PDF format, click here.