Telling coal miners that he will keep his promises to them, President Trump on Thursday rolled back Obama-era regulations targeting the beleaguered industry in one of his first concrete actions to reverse his predecessor’s environmental agenda.
Mr. Trump signed legislation undoing the Interior Department’s “Stream Protection Rule,” which was proposed during the final days of the Obama administration.
The regulations, which would cost the coal sector at least $81 million per year, according to government estimates, were designed to protect America’s streams and waterways from pollution produced during mining. Environmentalists maintain such rules are desperately needed to protect the nation’s water from the dangers of fossil fuel development.
But critics, including the president, say the rule is unnecessary and would further devastate an industry that’s struggling to stay afloat.
“In eliminating this rule, I am continuing to keep my promise to the American people to get rid of wasteful regulations that do absolutely nothing but slow down the economy, hamstring companies [and] push jobs to other countries,” Mr. Trump said during an Oval Office signing ceremony, where he was surrounded by lawmakers and coal miners.
The 1,648-page rule required coal companies “to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests.”
More importantly, companies themselves would have been 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 in its proposal.
The testing is meant to provide baseline data that would help government agencies determine if there had been any pollution due to coal mining.
In practical terms the regulations would have forced coal companies to continue conducting expensive water-quality tests for years after mining operations ended. Those extra costs likely would’ve further depressed a coal industry that already is crushed under federal regulations and has struggled to remain competitive in an era of abundant, cheap natural gas.
Critics also said the regulations would’ve hurt consumers.
“It threatened to drive up energy costs for families and businesses, and its impact would have been felt far beyond the coalfields — harming railroads, utilities and the companies that service and support mining communities, from restaurants to hotels to equipment suppliers,” said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy.
Lawmakers took aim at the Stream Protection Rule using the little-known Congressional Review Act.
Under that law, regulations put in place during recent months are subject to congressional re-evaluation; in this case, Obama-era rules dating back to June 2016 can be reviewed by Congress.
The move had at least some small amount of bipartisan support. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, said undoing the regulation sends the right signal to coal miners. He also rejected the notion that mining is incompatible with environmental stewardship.
“They give us the country we have because of the hard work of them, their fathers, their grandfathers — all their families have done,” he said in the Oval Office.
Supporters of the rule say Mr. Trump’s action Thursday will directly threaten the health of those who live and work around coal mines.
“This is a significant setback for our country’s clean drinking water and the health of our communities,” said Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, an advocacy group focused on protecting waterways. “Americans should be angry that their elected representatives and the president would put the interests of the mining industry above the health of families.”