During the recent election cycle, Donald J. Trump vowed to roll back the onerous environmental restrictions currently besieging America’s coal communities. It was a sensible campaign pledge, since the coal industry has shed 68,000 jobs in recent years — in large part due to overzealous targeting of industrial carbon dioxide emissions.
Who knew, however, that the president-elect would face his first regulatory challenge immediately upon taking office? That’s because President Obama has just issued a last-minute “stream rule” that could potentially render as much as two-thirds of U.S. coal reserves off-limits to mining.
It’s a rather astounding bit of nerve on the president’s part — to issue a new rule that will take effect literally one day before Trump takes office. But such is the fierce divide over energy and environmental policy, with ideological concerns taking precedence over job creation.
The stream rule that President Obama has just announced is a brazen, last-minute effort to seal the coffin on America’s coal industry. Running more than 1,640 pages, the rule simply duplicates existing environmental protections already ensured by various state and federal agencies. Currently, these authorities administer a host of oversight measures to ensure both the safe extraction of coal and the mandatory reclamation of finished mining sites. The new stream rule not only duplicates these controls but also interferes with existing procedures — a redundancy expressly prohibited under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
It’s not entirely surprising that the rule contradicts the present oversight system, since the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) that formulated the regulation simply disregarded its legal obligation to consult with states during the development phase. As a result, 19 states have written letters to OSM urging it to comply with congressional mandates and to re-engage with state agencies in order to rectify such a troubling bureaucratic roadblock.
America’s coal communities — the tens of thousands of miners, households, and businesses that coal supports — should not have to seek protection from their own government. Now, with a new administration, they won’t have to.
Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can pass a resolution within 60 days to disapprove the stream rule. All that would be required is a simple majority vote in both the House and the Senate, with the incoming president subsequently signing the resolution.
The clock is ticking, however, and America’s coal miners will have to wait anxiously to see if Congress and President-Elect Trump can take such timely action. Overturning such a rule would be a tremendous first step for the new administration to deliver on the promise of pursuing policies that not only boost energy production but also create good-paying, middle-class jobs.
Luke Popovich is vice president for external communications at the National Mining Association (NMA).
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