Attorney Ben Bailey speaks Wednesday at a press conference discussing the state's lawsuit filed against the Federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers in regards to coal mine regulations. (Courtesy photo)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Joe Manchin announced Wednesday the state is filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration over its attempts to curb mountaintop removal in West Virginia, saying its actions "absolutely will harm" the economy and cost the state jobs.
At a morning press conference held at the state Capitol, Manchin said the suit challenges the federal Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory plan that the agency says will eliminate valley fills and its "attempts to destroy the coal-mining industry and our way of life."
"Through a series of questionable and unlawful actions, the U.S. EPA has implemented policies and procedures that have delayed the permitting process and halted the issuance of new mine permits," Manchin said.
He said the EPA has "usurped" the authority of the state and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to oversee and regulate certain aspects of the state's environment, including water quality.
"Again, (the) U.S. EPA has done this without any legal authority, and in so doing has relied on questionable scientific studies that have not been adequately peer reviewed or presented to the state and coal mining community for comment," Manchin said.
He said, "They have proven that they are trying to regulate what they can't legislate."
The governor said the suit was to be filed later Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Named as defendants will be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Army Corps of Engineers, state officials said.
Manchin appeared at the press conference with officials from the West Virginia Coal Association and the United Mine Workers. Also in attendance were state DEP Secretary Randy Huffman and Ben Bailey, a Charleston lawyer whose firm, Bailey and Glasser, was hired by the administration earlier this year to help plan legal action against the EPA.
Bailey said the lawsuit seeks to abolish the agency's "rigorous" reviews of Clean Water Act permits and to block the feds from implementing tougher water quality standards.
The suit, he said, will challenge whether federal officials followed the proper procedures before enforcing the new standards announced this spring.
The lawsuit comes as Manchin, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the late Robert C. Byrd, continues to face criticism for his ties to President Barack Obama.
At the press conference Wednesday, Manchin noted the suit has been in the works since before the senator's death in June.
Manchin, invoking Byrd's legacy, pulled out a copy of the U.S. Constitution and quoted the 10th Amendment, which deals with states' powers.
But a spokesman for John Raese, the Morgantown businessman Manchin is facing at the polls Nov. 2, points to Manchin's approach to coal prior to the last 30 days of his campaign.
Kevin McLaughlin -- in light of the governor's "hastily arranged, secret press conference" -- claims that less than two years ago Manchin said he was "comfortable" with Obama's stance on coal.
"He proceeded to take absolutely no legal action against the EPA's regulations until he dropped behind in the polls just weeks before the election," McLaughlin said in a statement.
The results of a Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday shows Raese extending his lead over Manchin. The poll has Raese ahead with the support of 50 percent of likely voters and Manchin with 44 percent.
"West Virginians need someone in Washington that won't be a rubber stamp for President Obama's radical agenda. They need someone who has the foresight to stand up for West Virginia values and oppose government overreaches like Obamacare and cap and trade before they become law, not after polls get tight," the Raese spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Massey Energy released its own statement following Manchin's announcement of the suit being filed.
The coal company said, "Massey Energy applauds Gov. Manchin's decision to combat the EPA's stance on mining permits, which threatens West Virginia jobs and jeopardizes the livelihoods of working families throughout Central Appalachia. It is encouraging to see an elected official recognize the important role played by our coal miners, who work hard to meet the Nation's energy needs."
Massey Energy Co., headquartered in Richmond, Va., with operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, is the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia.
Republican congressional candidate Spike Maynard also applauded the lawsuit. But he says he supports it because his opponent, incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall, has failed to protect coal and coal jobs.
"Nick Rahall has failed to act for our coal miners, so stopping Barack Obama's EPA is the only way we can keep our people working and continue providing the country with cheap electricity," Maynard said in a statement. "Obama's EPA must be stopped in their war on our coal miners."