Today, House of Representatives passed H.J.Res.38 which eviscerates the Stream Protection Rule, a modest clean-water safeguard crafted to protect the health of communities impacted by coal mining. The rule is being targeted under the Congressional Review Act, a seldom-used law that allows recently passed regulations to be rolled back virtually overnight with little debate and zero public input. The House bypassed committee review and regular order to bring this resolution to the floor and the Senate is expected to do the same.
Many years in the making, the Stream Protection Rule was the first significant update to surface mining regulations in 30 years. It was intended to address the pervasive problem of toxic pollution impacting community health and waterways near coal-mining operations.
By this action, Congress has shown they are willing to do the bidding of big corporate polluters at the expense of clean water and the communities that depend on it. If a coal company destroys a stream they need to be held accountable.
In Appalachia, some 2,000 miles of streams have already been destroyed by mountaintop-removal mining. Meanwhile, safeguards for communities under the Stream Protection Rule extend to anywhere coal-mining operations are underway.
“Nobody voted against clean air and water in the last election. Regulatory safeguards that keep our water safe from toxic pollution are crafted using a lengthy democratic process and based on the best current science," said Trip Van Noppen, President of Earthjustice. "Dismantling them using the Congressional Review Act fundamentally undermines the very goals of our environmental laws by trying to cripple future attempts to enforce protections for our air, water, and lands.”
Toxic mining runoff can poison streams, harming aquatic life and putting human health at risk. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have linked mountaintop removal mining with health impacts such as cancer and birth defects. The Stream Protection Rule required monitoring to detect harmful chemicals in surface water and groundwater, but this data collection would cease if the rule were obliterated.
According to the Department of the Interior, industry compliance costs associated with the rule would amount to approximately 0.3 percent of estimated 2015 coal revenues. Contrary to the industry talking points many on the Hill are parroting, the Stream Protection Rule would increase employment by an average of 150 jobs a year between 2020-2040, not kill thousands.
80 environmental organizations recently sent an open letter to lawmakers asking them to stand strong against this legislative attacks on clean water. Representing millions of members and supporters, the groups decried the rollback of the Stream Protection Rule under the Congressional Review Act as a threat to universal access to clean, safe water.