Billings Gazette: Indian coal economy has suffered because of EPA regs, tribes say

The coal economy on Indian reservations is being endangered by tougher Environmental Protection Agency clean air laws, tribal officials told U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., on Wednesday.

Members of the Crow, Northern Cheyenne and Navajo tribes met with Daines for a Senate Indian Affairs Committee field hearing on “empowering Indian Country.” Coal mining dominated the discussion, with challenges related to clean air laws and Pacific Coast shipping ports for coal taking center stage.

“The EPA clean power program is creating problems for Crow Nation,” said Darrin Old Coyote, Crow tribal chairman. “The EPA did not consult with Crow Nation, did not consider the economic impacts on Crow Nation and did not provide a less obtrusive alternative.”

Daines said before and after the hearing that EPA regulations were clearly a problem for Indian coal sales. He also said it was time to make permanent the Indian Coal Production Tax credit, which makes mining Indian coal more lucrative for mining companies like Westmoreland.

Congress will address the permitting of Pacific Coast coal ports later this year by requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the required environmental impact study of the Cherry Point project by June 2016. The study, should it come back positive for permitting the coal terminal, will be one less obstacle for Montana coal exports, he said.