Overnight Energy & Environment

Overnight Energy: Congress does away with Obama coal mining rule

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CONGRESS KILLS COAL RULE: The Senate passed a resolution Thursday ending an Obama-era coal rule, giving President Trump his first opportunity to undo an environmental rule from the previous administration.

Senators voted 54-45 to approve a Congressional Review Act resolution gutting 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.

Trump is likely to sign the resolution, killing a rule that the coal industry and Republicans had fought for the better part of a decade.

“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 McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Thursday, noting industry opposition and state lawsuits against the rule.

{mosads}”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.”

Democrats in both the House — which passed the bill on Wednesday — and Senate argued that an administration and party so focused on helping coal miners should maintain a regulation designed to protect their health.

“If you want to help miners, then come address their health and safety and their pension program,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said.

Read more here.

HISTORY: When Trump signs the resolution and formally quashes the Stream Protection Rule, it will be only the second time in history lawmakers have successfully used the CRA to undo a rule.

The only previous successful effort came in 2001, when lawmakers killed a Clinton administration workplace injury rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

But if the GOP has its way, Thursday’s resolution will not be the last to find its way to President Trump’s desk. Senators on Thursday took a procedural vote on a CRA resolution blocking a Securities and Exchange Commission rule calling for more financial disclosures from drilling and mining firms, setting up a final vote next week.

The House passed a CRA resolution on Thursday ending a Social Security Administration rule to block disability recipients with mental disorders like schizophrenia and severe anxiety from owning guns. And it will vote on another CRA measure Friday to block an Interior Department methane rule.

“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.

GOP CHANGES RULES, PUSHES PRUITT THROUGH COMMITTEE: Senate Republicans temporarily changed committee rules Thursday in order to move along the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said Republicans had few choices left after the panel’s Democrats boycotted the meeting for the second day in a row, with the express purposes of denying a quorum and delaying the vote.

The full roster of Republicans, including Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) formed the quorum necessary to suspend the rules and then vote 11-0 to report Pruitt’s confirmation to the full Senate.

“We took this extraordinary step because the minority members of the committee took the extraordinary step of boycotting the business meeting to approve an EPA administrator for an incoming administration,” Barrasso said after the vote went through.

“The minority has put us in this, unchartered waters. Never before in the history of the EPA has a new president’s incoming administration nominee been boycotted.”

Barrasso and his Republican colleagues boycotted a 2013 vote to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator, though they eventually gave in. Barrasso said that was different, because a president deserves special treatment for his first Cabinet.

Democrats denounced the move as irresponsible, saying that Pruitt still hasn’t sufficiently answered their questions.

“We have made our requests perfectly clear, and I believe they are entirely reasonable — so reasonable, in fact, that my Republican colleagues made the same requests of our last nominee to lead the EPA, who actually worked to address their requests,” ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a statement.

Read more here.

CHAFFETZ WITHDRAWS FEDERAL LAND SALE BILL: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) withdrew a bill Thursday to sell off federal lands, amid protests and opposition from conservation and sportsmen’s groups.

The Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act called for the sale of 3.3 million acres currently owned by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management in 10 western states.

“I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands,” Chaffetz wrote on Instagram alongside a photograph of him in hunting camouflage, holding a dog.

“The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message,” he wrote, adding that the legislation “dies tomorrow.”

The post on Instagram had near 8,000 likes and more than 3,000 votes late Thursday, far more than is usual on his account.

Chaffetz introduced the bill Jan. 24, just over a week before he committed to withdrawing it. He or other legislators have introduced it in previous congressional sessions.

One of the key opponents of the legislation was Backcountry Hunter and Anglers, which counts Donald Trump Jr., President Trump’s son, as a lifetime member.

Read more here.

ON TAP FRIDAY: The House votes on a Congressional Review Act resolution undoing the Bureau of Land Management’s venting and flaring rule for methane. Follow The Hill tomorrow for more.


Sixty-eight percent of Americans approve of the National Park Service, according to a survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling.

Denmark’s largest utility is ditching coal within six years, The Local reports.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) has a new podcast called “The Hotdish.” The first episode is about human trafficking, the Grand Forks Herald reports, but energy seems to be a likely topic to crop up in the future.


Check out Thursday’s stories …

-Senate votes to block Obama coal rule
-Dakota Access company wants some court information sealed
-GOP suspends rules to push through EPA pick despite Dem boycott
-GOP lawmaker withdraws bill to sell federal land
Battle over EPA pick is big business


Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com; and Devin Henry, dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill

Tags Donald Trump Gina McCarthy Heidi Heitkamp Jason Chaffetz Jeff Sessions John Barrasso Maria Cantwell Mitch McConnell Tom Carper

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