For House Republicans, probably the best thing about Trump is that he’s such an enormous distraction they can get away with all kinds of perfidious, despicable acts that never make their way into the national news. On Wednesday night while the nation yammered about the latest right-wing, Federalist-society-spawned monster soon to inhabit the Supreme Court, Congressional Republicans were busy dismantling environmental regulations that prevent mercury pollution and poisoning of our streams by coal companies.
Moving to dismantle former President Barack Obama's legacy on the environment and other issues, House Republicans approved a measure Wednesday that scuttles a regulation aimed at preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams.
The Stream Protection Rule was the product of years of transparent, open-to-the-public consultations and studies by the Department of the Interior into the problem of surface and groundwater contamination by coal mining activities. It was primarily designed to minimize pollution and poisoning of mountain streams by companies engaged in “mountaintop mining.” These companies were blowing off the tops of mountains and dumping the residual waste, filled with toxins, into the streams just below these same mountains. The poisons in the residue, predominantly mercury, cause cancer and birth defects in humans. They also decimate fish and wildlife, effectively turning natural areas into dead zones.
From the Department of The Interior’s 12/19/16 Press Release:
This rule takes into account the extensive and substantive comments we received from state regulators, mining companies and local communities across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider. “We traveled the country, visited many mines, and met with many of the people who work and live in coal country to make sure we wrote the best rule possible – one that is both economically achievable and protective.”
Guided by the best-available science and utilizing modern technologies, the final rule would require companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests. It would also require companies to restore streams and return mined areas to the uses they were capable of supporting prior to mining activities, and replant these areas with native trees and vegetation, unless that would conflict with the implemented land use.
This Rule, issued by the Obama Administration, was intended to modernize and update 30 year old regulations governing the process of mining and land reclamation, specifically the establishment of a 100 foot zone from each stream for which coal companies would have to meet certain criteria before being permitted to dump their mining residue into public streams. It covered 6000 miles of streams over the next two decades.
On Wednesday, using an obscure law called the Congressional Review Act, House Republicans voted to dismantle the Stream Protection Rule. This Act allows Republicans to repeal any regulation enacted after June 13, 2016, by simple majority vote. It cannot be filibustered in the Senate and Trump has promised to sign it, as part of his attack on “excessive governmental regulations."
It seems probable Trump has never even seen a mountain stream in his lifetime.
The GOP’s excuse for this action is that the Rule requiring coal companies to clean up after themselves would cost “coal jobs.” However the impact on jobs was specifically considered in Interior’s analysis leading up to the Rule, and job losses, if any, were expected to be “modest." In fact, jobs were expected to be added due to the necessity of transporting residual waste to places other than our public streams.
The coal industry is failing because natural gas has supplanted coal as a fuel source. The only real “cost" of the Stream Protection Rule was the cost to coal companies' bottom lines, who would have to spend the extra money to clean up after themselves. These companies virtually own the state legislatures and most of the Congressional representatives in states like Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia, and as a consequence have lobbied hard for the repeal of these regulations. Their concerns are not “jobs” or the health of the American public, but their own profits.
With Trump in office the Republicans see no one to stop them now. Least of all the citizens living in the hollows and valleys that depend on these streams and aquifers for fresh drinking water.