The Obama Administration has given Donald Trump an early Christmas gift, in the form of a punitive 11th-hour regulation on coal. Issued by the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), the rule takes effect Jan. 19 as a classic example of the job-killing rules that Mr. Trump has vowed to overturn.
Though issued Monday, the Obama Administration has been working on the Stream Protection Rule for six years. Ostensibly it’s about keeping American waterways clean. In reality it’s a power grab aimed at giving federal regulators more authority to make coal too expensive for anyone to mine or use.
No one should be surprised. In 2008 candidate Barack Obama told the San Francisco Chronicle that while people would still be free to build a coal-powered electricity plant under his energy policies, it would “bankrupt them” because of the costs his regulations would impose.
This is what Hillary Clinton meant in March when she said “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of work.” It’s also what Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy meant last month when she said that a Trump Administration would fail in its promise to revive the coal industry because her agency had helped destroy the market for coal.
Under the Stream Protection Rule, federal regulators will have expanded power to draw up new standards that make it harder to get a coal-mining permit. OSM’s federal water standards would suddenly take precedence over the state standards that have long governed the industry under the Clean Water Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service would also gain the power to veto coal permits.
The aim is to take permitting power from states and impose a one-size-fits all standard. When this process started, 10 states signed onto Interior’s rule-making process as state cooperating agencies. But eight of the 10 later withdrew because Interior wasn’t interested in what they had to say.
All of this is legally dubious, given that the new rule conflicts with the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act—which specifically prohibits initiatives that duplicate other federal environmental rules.
Interior’s projections about the economic impact are laughable. OSM reckons the rule would cost a mere 124 coal-mining jobs a year. But instead of visiting operating mines, the wizards at OSM built their estimates on computer models. They even reported a net gain in jobs as miners are replaced by workers implementing the rule. Less mining but more workers: genius.
By contrast, a study commissioned by the National Mining Association says that at least a third of all coal-related jobs are at risk from this rule, and it would effectively leave almost two-thirds of total coal reserves in the ground. Which is the rule’s real purpose.
The good news is that the change of power in Washington makes this regulation not long for this world. The opposition includes Mr. Trump’s pick to run the Interior Department, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, as well as most affected states.
Mr. McConnell has already announced that early next year Congress will use the Congressional Review Act to bury the new rule. Under the CRA, Congress has 60 legislative days to act after a rule goes into force, and a vote to kill it can’t be filibustered. The only obstacle will be the long line of other last-minute regulations that Republicans are setting up to repeal. So many rules, so little time.
As for Mr. Trump, he should thank President Obama for this and other going away presents. Every new President wants to start his term with some easy political victories that fulfill campaign promises, and Mr. Trump now has a lay-up on coal.
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- On December 21, 2016