Announcing the action on Wednesday against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, Gov. Joe Manchin III said that the regulations were unlawful, usurped state rights, were based in inadequate science and harmed the state by preventing new mining projects.
He condemned what he called the administration’s “attempts to destroy our coal industry and way of life in West Virginia.”
Mr. Manchin, a conservative Democrat, is a popular governor but is in an unexpectedly close race for the Senate seat left open by the death of Robert C. Byrd. His Republican opponent, John Raese, has accused him of wavering in his dedication to the coal industry, a mainstay of the state’s economy.
Mr. Manchin has fiercely denied the charge, and the announcement on Wednesday, made with the coal association chief at his side, was an opportunity to highlight his support for coal and also distance himself from President Obama, who is unpopular with many voters in the state.
Responding to the move, the E.P.A. said that its policies on mountaintop mining were legally and scientifically sound. It added that in negotiations over the last year and a half, “state officials have not engaged in a meaningful discussion of sustainable mining practices that will create jobs while protecting the waters that Appalachian communities depend on for drinking, swimming and fishing.”
The agency’s environmental concerns were affirmed by an independent advisory panel, it added.
Mountaintop removal, in which hundreds of feet are blasted off hills to gain access to coal seams, has become a major mining method in West Virginia, Kentucky and nearby states, but also a source of bitter conflict. Producers say it saves money, but critics say it is destroying the landscape as the removed dirt and rocks are dumped in valleys and toxic chemicals are released.
Federal permits for such mining operations had been granted comparatively easily in the past. But in 2009, the E.P.A., citing evidence of environmental harm as well as a growing public outcry, began requiring more stringent environmental reviews of new proposals and taking stronger action to protect streams under the Clean Water Act.
In announcing the suit, Mr. Manchin said that of 23 mining permits that were pending in 2009, only two had so far been approved to go forward.
The E.P.A. has also said it may withdraw or drastically alter a permit that the Bush administration had approved for a large proposed mine in West Virginia known as Spruce 1. A final decision on that project will not be announced until late this year.