Huffman speaks to issues involving EPA, coal - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Huffman speaks to issues involving EPA, coal

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At the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce's Environmental Conference, a state official said those criticizing West Virginia politicians for their fight against the federal Environmental Protection Agency are "missing the boat."

"Our elected officials are not out trying to stop EPA's attempt to strengthen the Clean Water Act. The EPA didn't pass the Clean Water Act," West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman said. "It's not up to them to decide whether it should be strengthened or weakened."

Critics of the EPA in West Virginia say the EPA uses its authority under the Clean Water Act to do more than lawmakers intended. A recent federal court decision overturning the EPA's revocation of a surface mine permit further fueled coal state officials' criticisms of the agency.

"We have a major infringement on state rights, in my opinion," Huffman said of EPA attempting to influence water quality standards in the state. Here are a few quotes from Huffman at Tuesday's conference:

On energy versus environment: "We should not be in a position to think we have to choose one over the other, the economy or the environment. They can coexist. That's what we do at the DEP is (to) help people figure out how to make those coexist."

On regulating cautiously: "We're very careful not to overdo things. I think that's a dangerous place for a regulatory body to be," he said, citing passage of the Horizontal Well Act as an example. "We could have done that and a lot of people were pushing the governor and legislators to add more to that bill. It could have been a huge mistake. We weren't ready for that."

On EPA "holding state's NPDES program hostage": "This is my opinion, but this is not about environmental protection. It's not about the Clean Water Act. It's about using the Clean Water Act to control and limit something that they don't like, which is surface mining and coal combustion."

On EPA strengthening Clean Water Act: "If I thought the EPA was trying to do the right thing for the right reason, it wouldn't bother me nearly as much. They are using the Clean Water Act to restrict coal mining because they don't like it. That's wrong at every level."

On EPA/DEP relationship: "We get awards, I can show them to you, from the same EPA that has taken over our mining program and held it hostage. It doesn't make sense."

On what his job entails: "This is about protecting the environment as we develop an economy. That's what I do. It's what I get paid to do. It's what I'm expected to do."

Huffman added he believes his stance is "more practical than political" although he does "get accused of the opposite."

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