For close to a decade, Republicans have been leading the charge against the regulatory onslaught on coal communities. But now, with an ally in the White House, we can finally begin to roll back some of the punishing regulations of the last eight years. This starts with repealing the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) Stream Protection Rule under the Congressional Review Act.
The final SPR, forced on the American people in the waning days of the Obama administration, is a blatant attack on working families in coal country that could shut more coal mines and send thousands of miners to the unemployment line. The final rule jeopardizes at least one-third of this nation’s good paying coal jobs and removes half or more of total U.S. coal reserves from future extraction. Let’s put that in perspective for a moment: The rule’s associated job loss comes on top of the loss of 68,000 good paying coal jobs over the past few years.
Despite the rule’s devastating impact on jobs and local communities, OSM insisted on finalizing the 1,640-page rule that rewrites more than 400 regulations with little benefit for the environment. Based on the Department of the Interior’s own investigative report, virtually all coal mines have no off-site impacts, and the vast majority of coal mines are being operated safely to the very end – through the final reclamation and restoration process. In other words, success has already been achieved under existing federal and state regulations.
Our main issue with this rule is the way in which OSM went about a costly, seven-year rulemaking process. Rather than defer to the states tasked with regulating 97 percent of all coal mines in the U.S., OSM opted to shut them out completely.
Eleven states, from Alabama to Kentucky and West Virginia to Wyoming, signed on to be cooperating agencies, but their calls went unanswered and their concerns intentionally ignored by unelected OSM bureaucrats in Washington. Many were so fed up with the lack of transparency that they backed out of the process because their input continued to fall on deaf ears.
This statutorily-questionable and duplicative rule imposes harm upon communities and state regulatory bodies with little environmental or economic benefit. It was written without state input, stretches grossly beyond congressional intent and was issued in the waning days of the outgoing Obama administration. This is precisely why Congress created the Congressional Review Act, and this is the reason it will be used to overturn SPR.
Congress taking action on a joint resolution disapproving of this rule sends a strong message to the American people. Its passage will provide certainty to state regulatory bodies tasked with enforcing federal mining regulations under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. It protects coal jobs by preventing the issuance of any future, substantially similar rule that could have a devastating impact on middle-class families in our states.
Coal is not a commodity of the past; it’s an important part of our communities today and far into our future. It keeps the lights on throughout the year, powering 95 percent of electricity needs in West Virginia, 78 percent in Missouri, 77 percent in Indiana, 75 percent in North Dakota and 59 percent in Ohio. It heats homes during the cold Midwestern winters. And it’s an industry that employs more than 66,000 miners throughout Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Current regulations already ensure the protection of streams while also protecting the jobs and economic development that are tied to responsible coal production. Alternatively, this one-size-fits-all rule – as finalized – will crush communities that rely upon these jobs and states that remain heavily dependent on this reliable and affordable source of energy.
Over the past three Congresses, we held numerous hearings on the development and finalization of the SPR, including 13 in the Natural Resources Committee. State regulators testified that they yearned for meaningful participation in this rulemaking. We have heard from communities from Appalachia to the rust belt to the West who have so much to lose if this rule is implemented. In the House, we’ve repeatedly advanced legislation to prevent the finalization of this rule and to guarantee states and communities have a voice. These concerns, among others, were completely ignored by the previous administration.
We have an opportunity to protect thousands of American jobs, and encourage responsible development while ensuring environmental safeguards. With a new administration that understands the balance between energy development from coal extraction and protecting our environment, we have an opportunity to block this harmful regulation and protect the communities forsaken by the outgoing administration.
Now it’s time to win this fight.
Reps. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) sponsored H.J. Res 38, a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to repeal the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s Stream Protection Rule. McKinley is the chairman of the House Coal Caucus which has 70 members, including Johnson and Jenkins.