The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defended its decision to block 11 Kentucky coal mine permits, a day after Gov. Steve Beshear's administration and the Kentucky Coal Association sued the agency.
The EPA said it had "many conversations with Kentucky in the past about improving the mining permit process."
In April, after the EPA issued a memo setting new standards of conductivity — a measure of dissolved minerals and salts in water discharged from coal mines — the agency blocked permits the state issued in Bell, Floyd, Harlan, Knott and Pike counties.
In documents filed in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, the Kentucky Coal Association said the EPA had overstepped its authority by setting the standards without legislation from Congress.
Beshear and state legislators bashed the EPA on Monday. The federal agency delegates enforcement of the Clean Water Act to the states.
Beshear called the EPA's actions "arbitrary and unreasonable" and said they threatened 17,000 coal mining jobs.
In a letter to Beshear, state House Speaker Greg Stumbo and Senate President David Williams called for a lawsuit, saying the EPA "appeared impatient and anxious to take a stand against certain types of mining" as early as January 2009. Stumbo and Williams called the EPA's decision "unjustified and unlawful."
"I'm committed to continuing to work with the state to find sensible and common sense solutions to this issue," EPA Regional Administrator Gwen Keyes Fleming said in a written statement. "We all want clean water and a healthy economy, and I believe we can achieve this by working together."