Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Feds finalize long-debated Stream Protection Rule; senators from coal states vow to overturn it

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which spent nearly the entire Obama presidency working on the Stream Protection Rule, issued a final version Monday with "new limits on coal mining near waterways," Dylan Brown reports for Greenwire. "The new guidelines stringently define 'material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area' that the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act—the guiding law of OSMRE—is designed to prevent."

"The stream rule mandates states, SMCRA's primary regulators, to require additional data gathering and monitoring at and around mine sites," Brown writes. "It also imposes new financial assurance and reclamation requirements. OSMRE leaders have said that substantial technological advances in the decades since Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act forced the need for new oversight procedures." The law passed in 1977, before mountaintop mining was fully developed.

Lawmakers from Kentucky and West Virginia, two of the biggest coal-producing states, were quick to criticize the rule. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement: “This costly regulation, along with others that are already having a devastating impact, are part of the Administration’s plan to demolish these coal communities right now and long after the president has left office." McConnell said when Congress convenes next month he plans to "introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn" the regulation.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called the rule "very alarming in its scope and potential impacts," and said, "I believe that the manner in which this rule making was executed was flawed and lacked transparency, and I will pursue legislation to ensure it does not harm our coal-mining communities and economies.” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said in a statement: "The Stream Protection Rule would cause significant harm to both surface and underground coal mines. I am confident that we will be able to use the Congressional Review Act to stop this rule from taking effect.”

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