WASHINGTON—On its way out the door, the Obama administration just threw one more regulatory punch at North Dakota’s coal miners. Just days before Christmas, the outgoing administration published its extreme stream rule in order to guarantee it will take effect the day before President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office.
This 1,640-page regulatory Frankenstein created by the federal Office of Surface Mining was issued over the strenuous objections of states that are the exclusive regulators for coal mining under federal law. These states view the rule as another federal power grab that prescribes a one-size-fits-all framework in defiance of both common sense and the federal law empowering them to craft standards appropriate for their diverse circumstances.
President-elect Trump had this rule in mind when he promised to unwind regulations now strangling coal miners. And, as the new Congress looks for a way to reassert its constitutional authority over unelected regulators, it won’t find a better target than the stream rule.
Canceling the stream rule matters to North Dakota, because the state’s coal industry employs more than 1,600 workers. North Dakota also generates 75 percent of its electricity from coal, yielding some of the lowest utility prices in the nation.
But it’s not just North Dakota that should be concerned about the stream rule. Congress should be alarmed, too.
First, there’s no environmental benefit from this massive rewrite of more than 400 separate regulations. It does nothing to protect our streams that states and other federal agencies aren’t already doing.
It only engenders more confusion and bickering among various agencies.
Second, OSM’s own annual reports confirm that under the watchful eye of the states, coal mines are being successfully reclaimed with virtually no off-site impacts. The reward for these states, though, after a job well done, is a massive, unnecessary and expensive federal rule developed without consulting the agencies that actually regulate 97 percent of all coal mines in this country.
Finally, the economic impacts predicted by OSM are, in a word, preposterous. The agency believes the rule will create almost as many jobs as it will destroy. But OSM never once visited any coal mines to assess the rule’s costs. Instead, it preferred to stay in Washington and rely upon computer models.
An independent analysis based on real mines — 36 located in every coal-mining region — found the rule would jeopardize at least one-third of the current high-wage coal workforce. Countless more jobs in the coal supply chain would face a similar fate.
Early in the process, an OSM official was at least candid about the rule: “This is not about reality; this is about rulemaking.” Enough said.
Small wonder that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have placed the stream rule in the congressional crosshairs. They also have the weapon to kill it.
Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can pass within 60 days a resolution disapproving the stream rule. A simple majority vote by each House is all that’s required. President-elect Trump undoubtedly would sign it, given that he has called out Washington’s regulators for deliberately destroying coal-mining jobs and the communities they support.
The outgoing administration’s determination to destroy more coal jobs with the extreme stream rule suggests that half measures won’t work. To honor campaign pledges to help coal miners, Congress should take decisive action and pass a resolution of disapproval without delay.
Quinn is president and CEO of the National Mining Association.
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