EPA responds to court order requiring plan to study rules' effect on jobs

Responding to a recent order from a federal court, the Environmental Protection Agency has submitted a plan for how it would evaluate the effects of its air regulations on the coal industry. In the 15-page response, submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on Oct. 31, the EPA said it would ask its independent Science Advisory Board for guidance on how to conduct such a study.

The federal court had issued a ruling on Oct. 17 in Murray Energy Corp. vs. EPA, agreeing with plaintiff Murray Energy, a coal company, that the EPA is not in compliance with a provision of the Clean Air Act that requires the agency to evaluate potential job losses in the coal industry that are caused by its regulations.

The court said that the EPA had failed to comply with Section 321(a) of the act, which requires the agency to "conduct continuing evaluations of potential loss or shifts of employment" that may result from implementation of EPA regulations under the clean air law. In the Oct. 17 decision, the U.S. district court directed the EPA to provide it with a plan showing how it will evaluate these job losses — and said the agency needed to do so within 14 days.

On Oct. 31, the EPA filed its response with the court. Under the EPA's proposed compliance plan as outlined in the court document, the agency said it would obtain scientific and technical advice from its Science Advisory Board in several areas. In particular, the EPA said it would benefit from the advisory board's advice on a number of "analytical challenges" presented by the court's order, including: 1) how to isolate regulatory effects under the Clean Air Act from the effects of other economic and regulatory factors; 2) how to address the wide variety of programs and activities that fall under the Clean Air Act; 3) developing models and other tools to conduct employment evaluations at various levels of granularity; and 4) identifying the types of data and employment information needed to conduct further evaluations at a greater degree of granularity than currently available data may allow.

Under the timetable the EPA provided to the court, it would take roughly 22 to 26 months following court approval of the plan for the agency to get a report from the Science Advisory Board on how it should carry out its evaluation.

In its Oct. 31 response to the court, the EPA noted that it reserves the right to appeal all aspects of the court's Oct. 17 order.