Senate votes to block Obama coal rule

Senate votes to block Obama coal rule
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Senators voted 54-45 Thursday to kill an Obama administration coal mining rule, giving President Trump his first chance to formally take off the books an environmental rule from the previous administration.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) challenge passed by the Senate undoes the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation requiring coal firms to clean up waste from mountaintop removal mining and prevent it from going into local waterways. 

The coal industry and its congressional allies have looked for ways to kill the rule since Obama regulators began crafting it early in his term.

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They argued the regulation would be such a financial hindrance for the coal industry that it would kill jobs in economically distressed areas of Appalachia already struggling due to the sector’s market-driven downturn.   

The Office of Surface Mining finalized the rule in December, and the GOP this week quickly introduced and voted on a CRA resolution taking the rule off the books and blocking regulators from writing a similar rule in the future.

The House passed the bill 228-194 on Wednesday night. Trump supports the legislation, Republicans said, meaning the rule will come off the books as soon as he signs it. 

Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems mull big changes after Brazile bombshell A bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (D-W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampNorth Dakota rep: Trump wants me to run for Senate No room for amnesty in our government spending bill Trump bank nominee gets rough reception at confirmation hearing MORE (D-N.D.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyNo room for amnesty in our government spending bill Senate confirms Larsen to federal appeals court Senate confirms controversial Trump nominee to appeals court MORE (D-Ind.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic Homeland Security members request additional DHS nominee testimony Senate panel delays vote on Trump’s Homeland Security pick Steve Israel: ‘We had a better time at the DMZ than we’re going to have tonight’ MORE (D-Mo.) were the only Democrats to support the measure in the Senate. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsBipartisan group of lawmakers aim to reform US sugar program A bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote against it.

“In my home state of Kentucky and others across the nation, the stream buffer rule will cause major damage to communities and threaten coal jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell expects Paul to return to Senate next week Former Hill staff calls for mandatory harassment training Gaming the odds of any GOP tax bill getting signed into law MORE (R-Ky.) said on Thursday, noting industry opposition and state lawsuits against the rule. 

“We should heed their call now and begin bringing relief to coal country. Today’s vote on this resolution represents a good step in that direction.”

Environmentalists, public health advocates and Democrats broadly support the rule, saying it will protect waterways and prevent health risks for people living in coal-heavy areas.

“If you want to help miners, then come address their health and safety and their pension program,” Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocrats oppose effort to delay or repeal Interior methane rule Senators spar over proposal to drill in Alaska wildlife refuge Fake quorum calls are an excuse for the Senate's inaction MORE (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said during floor debate 

“You can protect the coal industry here with special interests and the amount of lobbying they do, or you can step up in a process and have a regulation that works for the United States of America so the outdoor industry and sportsman and fishermen can continue to thrive.”

The resolution will be the first CRA challenge undoing an Obama-era rule to hit President Trump’s desk. 

The CRA, which gives Congress the power to undo rules shortly after they are finalized, is a rarely successful tool: It has only been used to undo a rule once, in 2001. 

But Republicans have pledged to pass several CRA resolutions blocking late Obama rules this session. 

The Senate is scheduled to vote on another House-passed CRA resolution undoing a Securities and Exchange rule, and the House is considering three more resolutions under the law this week.

“We’ll continue to chip away at the regulation legacy of the Obama years with more CRA resolutions in the coming days as well,” McConnell said Thursday. 

“Let’s pass these two resolutions without delay so we can send them to the president’s desk and continue giving the power back to the people.”

 —Updated at 3:20 p.m.