Obama or­ders costly rules for coal in­dus­try

Repub­li­cans to re­verse pres­i­dent’s part­ing shot

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BEN WOLF­GANG

At the eleventh hour, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Mon­day rolled out reg­u­la­tions to crack down on coal min­ing across the coun­try, a part­ing shot against the be­lea­guered in­dus­try as the pres­i­dent leaves of­fice.

The reg­u­la­tions, de­signed to pro­tect Amer­ica’s streams and wa­ter­ways from pol­lu­tion pro­duced dur­ing min­ing op­er­a­tions, will add sig­nif­i­cant costs to coal min­ing com­pa­nies, many of which are strug­gling to op­er­ate.

The In­te­rior Depart­ment es­ti­mates that it will cost the coal in­dus­try about $81 mil­lion each year to com­ply with the rule. The agency stressed that fig­ure is just 0.1 per­cent of the coal in­dus­try’s “ag­gre­gate an­nual rev­enues.”

“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,” said Jan­ice Schneider, the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for land and min­er­als man­age­ment.

But crit­ics, in­clud­ing lead­ers in the en­ergy sec­tor and Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill, have said the pro­posal will be much more ex­pen­sive and surely will lead to even more lay­offs in the in­dus­try, which has been los­ing jobs each year dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Top Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, said Mon­day that they in­tend to work with the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and scrap the rule early next year.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is fight­ing its war on coal to the bit­ter end. This one rule could have crush­ing con­se­quences for coal min­ers, their fam­i­lies and many com­mu­ni­ties,” Mr. Ryan said in a state­ment. “If we are go­ing to get Amer­ica back on track, job-crush­ing reg­u­la­tions like this must stop. Our uni­fied Repub­li­can govern­ment will act to pro­vide coal coun­try with relief.”

The In­te­rior Depart­ment’s Stream Pro­tec­tion Rule will go into ef­fect 30 days af­ter its of­fi­cial re­lease and pub­li­ca­tion in the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter, mean­ing it likely will be im­ple­mented Jan. 19, one day be­fore Mr. Trump takes of­fice.

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans will have the power to re­verse the rules with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity vote.

Un­der the Con­gres­sional Re­view Act, en­acted in the 1990s, Congress can re­verse reg­u­la­tions pro­posed within the pre­vi­ous 60 leg­isla­tive days. That means any reg­u­la­tions put forth since June 13 could be re­versed with a ma­jor­ity vote, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice.

In ad­di­tion to the Stream Pro­tec­tion Rule, fed­eral rules lim­it­ing frack­ing on pub­lic lands and other en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions also will be in Repub­li­can crosshairs in Jan­uary.

Repub­li­cans seem to have at least a few al­lies across the aisle. Some coal-state Democrats also bashed the In­te­rior Depart­ment’s lat­est pro­posal, ar­gu­ing that it’s du­plica­tive and es­sen­tially use­less. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Vir­ginia Demo­crat, said he will work with Repub­li­cans to pass a bill to, at the very least, weaken the pro­posal.

“While we all must care­fully re­view this 1,648 page fi­nal rule, I want to re­it­er­ate that the pro­posed rule was very alarm­ing in its scope and po­ten­tial im­pacts. 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,” he said in a state­ment.

The broad rules re­quire coal com­pa­nies “to avoid min­ing prac­tices that per­ma­nently pol­lute streams, de­stroy drink­ing wa­ter sources, in­crease flood risk and threaten forests.”

More im­por­tant, com­pa­nies will be re­quired to test and mon­i­tor the con­di­tions of all streams that could be af­fected by their min­ing “be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter their op­er­a­tions,” the In­te­rior Depart­ment said. The test­ing is meant to pro­vide base­line data that would help govern­ment agen­cies de­ter­mine whether any pol­lu­tion was caused by coal min­ing.

“The re­spon­si­ble rule re­leased to­day rep­re­sents a mod­ern and bal­anced ap­proach to meet­ing the na­tion’s en­ergy needs,” In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell said. “Reg­u­la­tions need to keep pace with mod­ern min­ing prac­tices, so we worked closely with many stake­hold­ers to craft a plan that pro­tects wa­ter qual­ity, sup­ports eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, safe­guards our en­vi­ron­ment and makes coal­field com­mu­ni­ties more re­silient for a di­ver­si­fied eco­nomic fu­ture.”

Coal in­dus­try lead­ers said the ad­min­is­tra­tion clearly is try­ing to deal an­other blow to the coal in­dus­try on its way out the door.

“The de­ci­sion to pro­mul­gate this du­plica­tive rule at this stage is post­elec­tion mid­night reg­u­la­tion and there­fore ob­struc­tion­ism at its worst,” said Hal Quinn, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Na­tional Min­ing As­so­ci­a­tion.

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