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.