The EPA wants to reverse gears on an existing Clean Water Act discharge permit—halting work not only at the coal mine that filed the permit, but also creating an unprecedented threat for other industries from agriculture to home building. Organizations representing these and other industries protested the far-reaching implications of the agency’s unprecedented plans to “withdraw or restrict” an existing permit.

“Pulling a valid permit out from under a company destroys not only the basis of that project and the jobs it supports, but also the trust businesses must have for future investments in everything from home building and road construction to farming and ranching—all of which require Clean Water Act permits,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, one of the organizations responding to the EPA’s proposal.  

The EPA announced on April 2 its plans to veto the Spruce No. 1 surface mine claiming authority under the federal Clean Water Act’s Section 404 provisions for regulating “waters of the United States.” In their comments to the EPA, the organizations underscored the harm to jobs and the economy from this first-ever veto of an existing permit for an on-going operation. “Businesses regularly invest millions of dollars on property, technology, personnel and machinery on the assumption their activities can continue unabated so long as they dutifully comply with the terms of the 404 permit,” they said. The permit had been approved by multiple federal and state environmental agencies and was accompanied by a comprehensive environmental impact statement.  

The organizations also questioned the legality of the EPA’s proposed action, doubting Section 404 gives the EPA any authority over existing permits.

Among the industries at risk from the EPA’s veto of existing water quality permits are home building and real estate, manufacturing, agriculture, mines and quarries, and road and transportation construction.