Senate votes to block Obama coal rule

Senate votes to block Obama coal rule
© Getty

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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) ManchinKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-N.D.), Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyKavanaugh becomes September surprise for midterm candidates Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (D-Ind.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDems gain momentum 50 days before midterms CBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski MORE (D-Mo.) were the only Democrats to support the measure in the Senate. Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify Kavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday White House says Kavanaugh ready to testify over 'false allegation' 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 McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow 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 CantwellSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Poll: Majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Protests and anger: Washington in turmoil as elections near 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.