LEXINGTON, Ky. — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stepped up his criticism of the Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday, claiming federal regulators have "declared war" on the coal industry and asserting it's time to rein in the agency.
McConnell, in a speech to the Kentucky Coal Association, said the EPA's regulatory decisions "defy logic." The Kentucky Republican accused the agency of "changing the rules in the middle of the game" with a burdensome permitting process designed to stymie the industry.
This, in turn, has put many Kentucky mining operations in limbo.
"What EPA is doing is outside the scope of its authority and the law, and it represents a fundamental departure from the permitting process as originally envisioned by Congress. And it's time for Congress to rein the EPA in," he said, drawing applause from the crowd.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but environmental groups came to its defense.
Lenny Kohm, campaign director for the environmental group Appalachian Voices, based in Boone, N.C., said the EPA has "declared war on pollution" that poses risks to human health and the environment.
"We as a nation are very interested in not passing on our debt ... to our children," Kohm said, "and it puzzles me that some politicians don't feel that it is as important to pass on a healthy and sustainable environment to those same children.
Doug Doerrfeld, a member of the environmental and social justice group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said McConnell's speech "shows how completely out of touch he is with both his constituents and science."
Recent EPA actions "will prevent the needless deaths and sickness of thousands of Kentuckians," Doerrfeld said. "EPA is doing exactly what Congress mandated when it created the federal agency."
McConnell has sponsored legislation that would require the EPA to move faster in granting federal permits needed to open coal mines. McConnell said the measure wouldn't hurt the environment but would spur regulators to "make a decision one way or the other."
"To keep job producers in limbo, endlessly, strikes me as very counterproductive," McConnell told reporters afterward.
In his speech, McConnell ramped up his attack on the agency created by President Richard Nixon and a Democratic-controlled Congress four decades ago. The EPA has come under increasing assault from resurgent congressional Republicans wanting to block it from controlling greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
The EPA and the Justice Department have been suing electric utilities to get them to install the latest technology to capture pollution-causing emissions from coal-fired power plants in an effort to bring the utilities in line with the Clean Air Act.
McConnell took aim at the EPA's permitting process, saying more mining applications have come under enhanced review. He said the intent is to "run out the clock," a strategy he said is backed by President Barack Obama's administration and fellow Washington Democrats.
Kohm cautioned political leaders to resist using strident language that could inflame passions in the coalfields.
"There have been a number of incidents of violence in coal country that we feel are a result of all of the overheated rhetoric by the coal industry representatives and even some of our elected officials," he said.
McConnell's comments come three months after he accused the Obama administration of pursuing a "backdoor means of shutting down coal mines."
Other Kentucky officials have also taken aim at the agency.
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