House votes to stop Obama's new coal mining rules

The House voted Tuesday afternoon to stop the Obama administration's effort to re-write coal mining regulations, and require the administration to use a rule developed under the Bush administration.

Members passed the Preventing Government Waste and Protecting Coal Mining Jobs in America Act, H.R. 2824, in a 229-192 vote. The bill was supported by 10 Democrats, and opposed by seven Republicans.

Republicans have consistently criticized the administration's 2009 decision to scrap the Bush-era rule, and its effort to develop a new rule that a 2011 press report said would cut 7,000 jobs and hurt the economy in 22 states.

The GOP says those ongoing efforts show the Obama administration is waging a "war on coal." The bill passed today would require the 2008 rule to take effect, and force the government to study the rule for five years before recommending any changes.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said allowing the administration to continue working on new rules would only hurt job creation and U.S. energy production.

"Republicans want to create an America that works, and that requires access to affordable energy," he said. "If we do not stop the administration from implementing its new coal regulation, thousands of Americans will be out of work and home heating costs for working middle class families will rise."

Hastings also said his committee has found several problems with the rulemaking process, and that he issued a subpoena today for a full report on what the Department of Interior's Inspector General found out about the process. Hastings said he filed a subpoena after learning that Interior instructed the IG not to share the report with Congress, which he called "completely unacceptable."

Democrats argued that the 2008 rule would allow for mountaintop removal mining, which would pose a risk to the environment.

"I rise in strong opposition to this legislation that would ignore the poisonous environmental impacts of mountain removal mining," said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.). Holt also accused Republicans of ignoring these environmental issues, and inventing the idea of a "war on coal."

"Instead of the real impact of mountaintop removal mining, they're focusing on imagined impacts of a rule that hasn't even been released yet," he said. "They imagine a war on coal, they imagine a political conspiracy to subvert the rule that the Bush administration put in place in the last minutes of their administration."

Democrats argued in favor of a 1983 rule issued under President Reagan that they say would do a better job protecting streams from pollution caused by mining. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment requiring the government to use that 1983 rules instead of the 2008 rule, but the House rejected it in a 188-231 vote.

Before the final vote, the House rejected another amendment from Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), which would have ended the ability of states to issue their own stream buffer rules if they don't exceed federal rules. The House defeated that proposal 196-225.

Holt and other Democrats also argued that a February federal court decision vacated the 2008 rule, and that Republicans are now trying to codify a rule that the court struck down.

But Hastings said the court vacated the rule on "very narrow technical grounds," by finding that the government didn't formally consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service. He also said the 2008 rule is better than the 1983 rule, which was written with "absolutely zero consideration of protecting species."

While Republicans won the day, today's vote will likely be the end of the line for the bill, as Senate Democrats are unlikely to consider it in the face of a veto threat from the White House. Earlier this month, the White House said the bill would prevent the administration from developing new rules that provide for "responsible development" of coal resources.

"Updates in the proposed rule will reflect the significant technological and scientific advances in mining practices that avoid, minimize, and mitigate environmental damage from coal mining," the White House said. "H.R. 2824 does not adequately address the community, environmental, and health impacts of strip mining."