Goodbye, Stream Protection Rule

Not only is the GOP Congress going to kill it—they’re going to try to make sure that it never comes back

By Paul Rauber

February 1, 2017


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What It Is: The Stream Protection Rule covers waterways near surface coal mining operations like mountaintop-removal mines. When the tops of mountains are blown up to get at the coal below, the resultant rubble is dumped into valleys, often leading to pollution of rivers and streams with dangerous heavy metals like selenium, mercury, and arsenic. Some form of the rule has been around since 1983, but in late December 2016, President Obama finalized a strengthened version of the rule. It says that coal mines must not damage the “hydrologic balance” outside their permit area, and established a 100-foot buffer around streams to preserve native species. The rule also called for restoration of streams that had been damaged.

What the stream protection rule comes down to, says Erin Savage, Central Appalachian campaign coordinator for the grassroots group Appalachian Voices, is, “Who pays for the consequences of mining? Does the company pay for it, or do the local communities pay for it with their health and well-being?”

Why the GOP Wants to Get Rid of It: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls the rule “a harmful regulation that unfairly targets coal jobs” (i.e., it reduces coal company profits). “It’s just one example of the former administration’s attack on coal communities like those in my home state of Kentucky.” President Donald Trump has vowed to bring back coal jobs and abolish regulations that stand in the way of the industry. “Fortunately with President Trump, we now have a partner in the White House who understands how irresponsible and harmful these bureaucratic overreaches can be,” said David McKinley, a Republican representative from West Virginia. “Let’s get this Congressional Review Act passed as quickly as possible and send it to the president so we can protect our hardworking coal communities from this dangerous rule.”

Status: Gone. On February 16, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule. Flanked by Congressional Republican leaders and coal industry figures, Trump claimed that his action would save "many thousands of American jobs, especially in the mines, which, I have been promising you — the mines are a big deal." Killing the Stream Protection Rule was the second bill that Trump has signed that passed Congress under the obscure Congressional Review Act, which allows the body to overturn rules that were passed in the previous 60 working days. The first was a bill that repealed requirements that oil companies reveal payments made to foreign governments. 

This story has been updated.