House votes to delay coal mining rule

House votes to delay coal mining rule

The House passed a bill Tuesday to delay an Obama administration rule designed to protect streams around coal mining operations.

Lawmakers approved Rep. Alex Mooney’s (R-W.Va.) bill on a 235 to 188 vote with 4 Democrats joining most Republicans to vote in favor. Ten Republicans voted against the bill.

The bill would delay an Office of Surface Mining (OSM) regulation until it goes through future rounds of scientific review and the Obama administration releases more information about how it was developed, effectively blocking the rule. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation.

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The rule in question — a proposal that is six years in the making for OSM  — beefs up regulations for buffer zones around streams where coal mining and mining waste is prohibited. Republicans say the rule will hamstring the coal industry and lead to further job losses among miners, something they claim Obama regulations are already exacerbating.

“Taken together, these changes will destroy up to 77,000 coal mining jobs nationwide, including up to 52,000 in the Appalachia region,” Mooney said in a floor speech Tuesday, citing an industry-backed study.

“This would be devastating to states like my home state — like West Virginia — which have already been hit hard by President Obama’s war on coal.”

Democrats, though, have said Republican concerns about employment are overblown, noting other studies showing less than a dozen job losses due to the rule. They said Tuesday that the rule would protect public health and water quality against the controversial mountaintop removal mining process.

“The majority is falling back on the same political playbook they’ve used time and time again: attack, obstruct and delay,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said. “It’s really all about delay, it’s not about the policy.”

The House rejected a series of Democratic amendments to the bill, including those to allow the rule to move forward if it protects drinking water or to shorten the delay if it's found to contribute to long-term health problems.

The White House threatened Monday to veto the legislation, calling it a “needless delay of these important safeguards [that] would impact the communities and economies that depend on clean water and a healthy environment.”

The OSM rule has been a source of political angst for years. Republicans say the Interior Department has done a poor job of working with states on finalizing the rule, and many state regulators have pulled out of the consultation process.

House lawmakers have previously cleared legislation blocking the rule, most recently in 2014.

The mining industry has worked hard against the rule, saying it could kill upwards of 280,000 jobs both in the coal industry and businesses supported by it. Industry groups like the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Federation of Independent Businesses endorsed the measure ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

“Thousands of Americans in coal communities throughout the country will be grateful to Rep. Mooney and his colleagues for blocking the Stream Protection Rule, the latest Obama administration attempt to destroy their livelihoods,” National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn said on Monday.

But green groups have backed the rule. In a letter to lawmakers on Monday, the League of Conservation Voters called Mooney’s legislation “an awful bill that would block proposed safeguards that aim to reduce the health and environmental impacts of dangerous and destructive coal mining practices.”

“The Stream Protection Rule will finally update federal rules that currently fall woefully short of preventing serious harm to the communities living in the shadow of mining operations,” Gene Karpinski, the group’s president, wrote in the letter.