WASHINGTON, D.C.— The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution on Wednesday to rescind an Obama administration rule protecting streams from coal mining debris.
The stream protection rule, which was signed in December 2016, was rescinded using the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which enables Congress, in conjunction with a presidential signature, to overturn rules passed within the past 60 days.
Opponents of the stream protection rule say the regulation was designed not to protect the environment, but to handicap the fossil fuel industry.
“Make no mistake about it, this Obama administration rule is not designed to protect streams. Instead, it was an effort to regulate the coal mining industry right out of business,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, a sponsor of the disapproval measure rescinding the stream protection rule.
“The stream protection rule is really just a thinly veiled attempt to wipe out coal mining jobs,” Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Speaker of the House of Representatives said.
Environmental groups and some government agencies, however, have stated that the rule is a needed check against water pollution and mountaintop removal.
“I have seen the devastating impacts of coal mining firsthand. I have seen lakes turned gray downstream of mines. I have seen streams turned bright orange downstream of coal preparation plants,” stated John Kinney, who works at Alabama’s Black Warrior Riverkeeper group.
The U.S. Department of the Interior stated in December that the rule would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest from coal mining debris by establishing stricter guidelines on a longstanding 100-foot buffer zone preventing coal mining near streams. The rule also required the restoration of streams after mining efforts are completed.
The House approved the measure, 228-194. Nine Republicans voted against repeal, while four Democrats supported it.
The deregulation of the fossil fuel industry is a stated goal of the Trump administration’s America First Energy Plan. Coal companies have been critical of the regulation, which they say cuts off large swaths of America’s untapped coal reserves.
Congress also voted to repeal a law that requires fossil fuel companies to report payments made to foreign governments.
The resolution is expected to be passed by the Senate and sent to President Trump for his signature later today.
UPDATE: On Thursday, February 2 the Senate approved the resolution. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota tweeted, “The Stream Protection Rule made no sense for ND’s lignite coal industry, would cost money & hurt our coal industry.”