10-Point Expert: Repeal of the Stream Protection Rule

Anyone who lives in the Appalachia region may want to invest in a Brita filter. Just sayin’.



When it comes to reporting on the Donald Trump administration, it’s been more about his antics than actual policy. However, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any real policy coming from the White House.


While much has been made about President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration (ie Travel Ban), the repeal of the stream protection rule had went completely under the radar. It can easily be looked at as the first major environmental move by both the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans. So let’s take a look!  



Point 1: First some background. The “stream protection rule” is an environmental regulation set by the Obama administration which restricts coal companies from dumping mine waste into streams and waterways. The nuts and bolts of the measure prohibited surface mining within 100 feet of any streams and created strict standards when conducting environmental studies for mines. Based on the Department of Interior’s webpage on the stream protection rule, they describe the rule as a “balance between environmental protection and providing for the Nation’s need for coal as a source of energy.”


Point 2: Earlier this month, Congressional Republicans voted to repeal the stream protection rule and late last week, President Donald Trump had officially signed the bill killing the rule. They were able to accomplish this through an obscure rule known as the Congressional Review Act, which allows the House or Senate to nullify a “recently approved” regulation with just a simple majority vote in both chambers of Congress.



Point 3: What the stream protection rule actually did was prevent the dumping of mine waste into smaller waterways, thus limiting coal companies from mining in certain areas. Specifically, the process of mountaintop removal mining had been affected by the stream protection rule, because that technique had mining waste and debris fall on the valleys below.


Point 4: Many coal companies use the mountaintop removal mining as an essential part of the mining process. For mountainous coal mining regions like West Virginia and Kentucky, mountaintop removal mining is needed to reach those energy reserves. Research commissioned by the National Mining Association (NMA) said the stream protection rule threatened around 40,000 to 78,000 coal mining jobs. But the loss of jobs proposed by the NMA has been questioned, more on that in a bit.


Point 5: The coal industry has been in decline for the past decade due to the availability and overall cost effectiveness of natural gas. So taking all that into account, it’s only natural that the coal industry would want to shed environmental regulations like the stream protection rule, because it imposes restrictions on new areas where coal companies could potentially expand.


Point 6: Considering on the campaign trail Republicans had given major lip service to the coal industry, the repeal of the stream protection rule looks to be a quick and easy move by Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration as a move of good faith towards the industry.


Point 7: It’s important to note that many environmental groups consider mountaintop removal mining extremely harmful to the surrounding environment, with the debris from the process contaminating streams and burying waterways with toxic materials.



Point 8: Local environmental groups like Appalachian Voices estimate that coal companies have buried over 2,000 miles of waterways in the North Carolina region, with medical research continually surfacing that the debris of mountaintop removal mining is having health effects on those rural communities that get their water supply from those nearby streams.


Point 9: It’s also important to note, that at the creation of the stream protection rule, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimated that the rule would only reduce employment by an average of 261 jobs a year. That job loss rate is significantly lower than what the NMA had originally projected in their estimates! But the real kicker comes in the fact that CRS had also estimated the regulation would generate 250 new jobs a year, thus the stream protection rule would have created as many jobs as it would have cost!


Point 10: Even though the general consensus of the stream protection rule was that it had a positive effect overall, at the end it didn’t matter to the Trump administration because it had less to do with its effectiveness and had everything to do with what kind of message the administration wanted to send. From the beginning, President Trump has said that regulations stifle job growth in the US, specifically regarding environmental regulations. For President Trump, the killing of the stream protection rule might be his first major environmental rollback, but it definitely won’t be his last.



(Photo Credits: Google Images)


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