Update #2: 2/2/17 7:42 AM
… and now the Senate has voted to advance the bill. The Stream Protection Act will be dead by the end of the week, pending Trump’s signature. Vote to advance was 56-42. Four Democrats voted with all 52 Republicans to ensure passage: reliable Trump voters Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Donnelly, and Joe Manchin (WV), and a somewhat surprising defection from Claire McCaskill (MO).
Updated Senate Tracking HERE.
Update: 2/1/17 6:33 PM
As expected, the House passed H.J.Res 38 tonight, disapproving of the rule and sending it on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass via Congressional Review as I outlined below. Four Democrats: Colin Peterson (MN-7), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Sanford Bishop (GA-2), and Jim Costa (CA-16) joined Republicans to pass the bill. Peterson and Cuellar have voted with Trump and the Republicans on all three bills I’ve tracked so far. Costa abstained once.
Updated House Tracking HERE.
One of the last things our last president, Barack Obama, did before leaving office was to finalize a rule that protects rivers and streams from coal companies. He did this by updating mining regulations to include something called the Stream Protection Rule. It’s a classic example of government regulation – if left to their own devices, mining companies can- and do- engage in a practice called “mountaintop removal,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Those mountaintops, once removed, have to go somewhere, and more often that not, they make their way into water sources, which in turn threatens the fish and wildlife that live in these areas, as well as to human populations in Appalachia.
Since 2007, peer-reviewed studies by researchers from more than a dozen universities have concluded that mountaintop removal coal mining contributes to significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among individuals living in the region where it occurs.
Boy, it’s a good thing those people all have health insura… oh.
These companies engage in this mountaintop removal for the same reason comapnies do things that are detrimental to citizens all the time – because it’s profitable, and because there’s no regulation preventing them from doing so. And they do it with gusto. A study by Mountain Voices shows that “10% of the Central Appalachian region has been surface mined for coal and more than 500 mountains have been severely impacted or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining. Five. Hundred. Mountains.
They will continue to engage in these practices, largely because the Stream Protection Rule, even if it miraculously survives the week, doesn’t stop them from getting to their sweet, sweet coal. What it does do is address and protect the cleanliness of nearby water sources, protecting streams for at least the next 20 years by regulating what the mining companies do with all the stuff that results from their liberation of the mountaintops. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement estimated that, thanks to the rule
between 2020 and 2040, the rule will result in the protection or restoration of 22 miles of intermittent and perennial streams per year, improved water quality in 263 miles of intermittent and perennial streams per year downstream of minesites, and improved reforestation of 2,486 acres of mined land per year (approximately 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest) over the next 21 years.
The government is simply telling mining companies “look, we don’t like the way you’re going about your business, but if you’re going to do it, can you at least be responsible about what happens afterward?” The response is an overwhelming “nah.”
Tomorrow, the rule will almost certainly be overturned in the House, with coal-friendly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waiting, breath held, to send it on to the president for his signature. Not only will the bill allow mining companies to dispense of mining debris into rivers and streams, it will make sure the Department of the Interior can’t issue similar rules in the future.
Because of the process Republicans are using to overturn the rule, it won’t be subject to a filibuster in the Senate, so it’s entirely possible the law will be history by as early as the end of the week. The process, known as the Congressional Review Act, has been in existence since 1996, but has only ever been used once before. Apparently the number of exceptions to rules and customs Republicans are willing to make in order to foil Barack Obama and his legacy didn’t end when he left office.