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Murray Energy Corporation suing EPA over new regulations

Murray Energy Corporation suing EPA over new regulations

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Mike Bost in Thompsonville

Congressman Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, talks in July about the Trade Promotion Authority and the Waters of the United States rule at Big O Farms in Thompsonville.

A major coal producer's lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for its water and coal regulations has some people in the region divided.

A week ago, Murray Energy Corporation announced it was suing the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, challenging their "Waters of the United States" rule, which they interpreted as saying any area "that is wet, or has the potential to be wet, would be subject to the Clean Water Act."

It is also suing those entities for rulings that would further regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Murray Energy Corporation operates 13 active mines in 12 mining complexes. The company manages four sites in Illinois — The American Coal Company's New Era and New Future mines, both in Galatia; American Equipment and Machine Inc., and Empire Dock, Inc., at Milepost 896 on the Illinois and Ohio rivers.

Support for the lawsuit comes from the Illinois Coal Association, a trade organization representing the coal mining industry, and opposition comes from the likes of the Sierra Club's Shawnee Group.

The lawsuits:

• Seek to have the EPA evaluate industry job losses;

• Challenge what it calls the EPA's over-reaching definition of "waters of the United States" and seek to limit what the government defines as a "body of water" feeding into a larger body of water;

• Challenge the agency's Mercury and Air Toxic Standards — or MATS regulations — and the Clean Power Plan, which would set a rate for reducing the amount of mercury, carbon and other products that coal-fired power plants can emit into the atmosphere. The Supreme Court rejected this EPA ruling, objecting to the way the agency did not consider the cost of compliance for these plants.

According to Gary Broadbent, assistant general counsel and media director for Murray Energy, the Clean Power Plan "imposes draconian greenhouse gas limits on coal-fired power plants and would drastically impact Southern Illinois, which is the heart of coal country in the Midwest."

A representative with the Sierra Club's Shawnee Group, called for attention to be placed on peoples' health and well-being.

"The Sierra Club definitely supports the Clean Power Plan," said Barb McKasson, chair of the Illinois Sierra Club's Shawnee Group. "It’s a big step in the right direction towards saving our climate, and, of course, we all know that corporations, their real main concern, if not their only concern, is their bottom line."

"We need to be serious about this," McKasson said. "This is a very serious problem."

McKasson said that the plants' emissions was a serious problem, noting that people's bodies had been effected by the emission of toxic chemicals into the air.

The power plants can produce mercury, which is believed to settle in lakes and rivers, adding to the contamination of fish therein, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"In Southern Illinois, we were the first area of the state to have warnings on eating too much fish from our lakes, because we do not have the limestone buffers that do help ameliorate the absorption of the mercury into the food chain," McKasson said. "Mercury, you know, is very damaging … to our nervous system, our kidneys and other organs."

"We’ve got to start saying our health, the health of our people, is more important than the bottom line of the corporations,” McKasson said.

Support for the coal giant and its lawsuits comes from the representatives of the Illinois Coal Association, which did not join the lawsuit.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost voted to delay an EPA deadline to set mandatory carbon dioxide goals. In a media release, Bost called the EPA's actions "over-reach" and said the act would kill American jobs and impose "hundreds of billions of dollars in new costs on residential and commercial consumers."

This past November, the head of the Illinois Coal Association sent a letter to the EPA, also challenging its scope of the "waters of the United States."

In an interview Wednesday, the association's president, Phillip M. Gonet, addressed the issue of coal, saying "the federal government has declared war on coal."

“The purpose of the lawsuits are to stop the federal government from (imposing) what we think are needless regulations, that will only serve to increase the cost of electricity to consumers," Gonet said.

For instance, Gonet said to outfit power plants to emit less-toxic sulfur emissions, plants would have to be outfitted with scrubbers, that can cost as low as $200 million to $300 million dollars in capital costs, up to as much as $500,0000 — half a billion dollars. The scrubbers technology reduces or "scrubs" certain pollutants from the emissions of coal-fired power plants.

He noted that that cost for outfitting the plants would have to be passed on to the consumer.

"This country, our country, was built on low-cost energy, primary from coal," Gonet said. "The federal government, in the last six years, has been virtually unchecked in the impact it’s going to have on electricity prices on the country."

Marion resident Gus Maroscher never worked in the mining industry but has worked with companies that did business with coal companies and miners. He said he watches the news as it relates to coal and other energy sources.

"I view the plight of this industry — the war on coal — not so much in legal terms, but in the human toll this 'war' has taken on thousands of working families," Maroscher said. "These folks aren’t mere labor statistics, but human beings that have had their livelihood, mortgages, retirement savings, and their dignity stolen by faceless bureaucrats. The recent Supreme Court ruling placed these bureaucrats on notice that Congress, not the EPA, writes law."

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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