H.R. 1644 would prohibit the Department of the Interior (DOI) from issuing any rule regarding prohibited surface mining areas near streams until a year after the National Academy of Science (NAS) has submitted an evaluative report of the current rule to Congress. It gives two years for NAS to submit the report, meaning DOI would be prevented from issuing further rules for up to three years. The bill would also expand transparency requirements on all scientific products and raw data used by DOI to develop any rule regarding surface mining regulation. It passed the House Tuesday with partisan Republican support. The Democratic Whip urged Democrats to vote no, and the White House has issued a veto threat should the bill pass in both chambers.
The Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) rule, which prohibits surface mining activities within 100 feet of certain streams without special permission, has been in effect since 1983. On July 27, 2015, DOI proposed a revision of SBZ called the Stream Protection Rule. This would increase the number of streams regulated and, according to bill sponsor Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV2), “shut down all surface mining and a significant section of underground mining in the Appalachian region.” Mooney said the bill is intended to prevent the loss in jobs and increase in energy prices that would result from increased regulation.
According to the White House response and the Democratic Whip, the current SBZ regulations are outdated. They argue that the bill would “result in deterioration of water quality for thousands of stream miles, and create sustained regulatory uncertainty, as well as public health impacts for downstream communities.”
Three Democratic amendments were proposed but failed in a vote before the bill was passed in the House. They were:
- To bypass the waiting period for any stream buffer rule if the rule would protect clean drinking water.
- To allow abandoned mine reclamation funding to be used to revitalize communities that have been adversely affected by mining.
- To postpone the delay of the stream buffer rule if it would contribute to the development of negative chronic or long-term health conditions.
It’s really hard to argue against Clean Water. It’s especially difficult to argue against Clean Drinking Water in light of what’s happening to the public in Flint, Michigan. However, that hasn’t stopped Republican members of Congress like Representatives Hardy (R-NV4), Heck (R-NV3), and Amodei (R-NV2) from aligning themselves with those who want to curtail, delay, and ultimately defeat regulations designed to prevent stream contamination in “coal country.”
Easy and Cheap Coal Mining or Clean Drinking Water?
Back in May 2015, opponents of clean water regulations decided to oppose any administration efforts to regulate what mining companies did with the debris from mountain top coal operations:
“Congressional Republicans are seeking to block an imminent rule protecting Appalachian streams from mountaintop removal mining, as opponents of the controversial practice say the mines are getting closer to communities and harming people’s health.
The White House is expected to announce a stricter rule…
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