News Feature | February 13, 2017

Streams, Mining Waste Rule Slashed By GOP

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

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Using fast-track procedures, Congress killed an Obama administration regulation aimed at protecting streams from mining waste earlier this month.

“Moving to dismantle former President Barack Obama's legacy on the environment and other issues, [Congress] approved a measure that scuttles a regulation aimed at preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams,” TIME reported.

The Stream Protection Rule was announced by the U.S. Interior Department in December “after eight years of wrangling among industry, conservationists, and the department. It defined how mining companies treat the land and water they take over, requiring that they take some measures to preserve the spaces as they naturally occurred,” the report said.

Republican lawmakers framed the Stream Protection Rule as government overreach and an assault on the coal industry. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the rule “harmful,” saying it “unfairly targets coal jobs," according to the Associated Press.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican from West Virginia, added, per the Associated Press: "If this rule were allowed to stay in place, it would add to the economic devastation for people in coal communities."

The rule would have “effectively made mountaintop removal uneconomical, experts said — especially when coal prices remain depressed amid competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources like wind and solar,” The New York Times reported.

The Times also noted research showing environmental and health benefits of the rule:

Stream restoration requirements would reduce human exposure to contaminants in the drinking water, and the probability of adverse health effects, the report said. The replanting of trees also required by the rule would increase carbon storage and reduce emissions, aiding in the fight against climate change.

Congress used fast-track procedures to get rid of the Stream Protection Rule, according to BuzzFeed:

It’s now only the second victim of the obscure legislative provision called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which lets Congress kill regulations by a simple vote within 60 session days of their enactment. The stream rule was killed on a 54–45 vote, largely along partisan lines in the US Senate with support from some red-state Democrats.

The rule updated certain environmental standards for coal companies. Before it passed, this set of regulations had not been updated in 30 years, according to BuzzFeed.

“Among other things, the rule required that companies test water quality before and after mining, and report the results to the public. It also defined safe zones around streams and lakes, within which mining activity cannot take place,” the report said.

Joseph Pizarchik, an Interior Department official during the Obama administration, criticized the decision to kill the rule. He called it “a vote against the people of coal country and a vote for Wall Street,” according to BuzzFeed.

Image credit: "U.S. Capitol, 7 a.m." Bates College © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: