The Obama administration on its way out the door is delivering one last blow to the coal industry–the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement’s (OSM) final version of the Stream Protection Rule.
The rule piles on controversial new regulations to the mining industry, which is already laboring under the heavy hand of the EPA and market forces.
It will take awhile to pore over the 1,648 pages, but if the final rule resembles earlier versions then the coal industry should brace for the worst.
The National Mining Association released a study last year on the proposed rule predicting the amount of recoverable reserves in Appalachia would decrease between 51 percent and 88 percent in underground mines and 38 percent to 67 percent at surface mines by the time all the new regulations are met.
The study also predicted a direct loss of mining jobs nationwide of between 40,038 and 77,520. That would just about finish off the coal industry, achieving the intended goal of this administration, the EPA and the environmental groups that have held the upper hand for the last eight years.
Notably, it’s not just the coal industry that has recoiled against the new rule. States that would be most impacted by the changes have pushed back as well, often because OSM ignored its responsibility of working cooperatively with those states to develop the rule.
West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Cabinet Secretary Randy Huffman testified before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last year that OSM had “lost its way” by taking a unilateral regulatory approach.
“OSM flouted the cooperating agency process and excluded states from participating in this rulemaking, even though this rule will drastically affect how those states regulate the mining industry,” said Huffman.
He was not alone. Ohio Department of Natural Resources Mineral Resources Management Division Chief Lanny Erdos told the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works earlier this year that the proposed rule supersedes traditional state jurisdiction of mining operations and “is tantamount to providing the federal government veto power over a permit without any explanation whatsoever.”
At least ten states, including West Virginia, that initially pledged to work with OSM to develop the new stream rule pulled out after it became apparent the federal agency had no interest in their concerns.
The new rule is scheduled to be entered into the federal register today, making it effective in 30 days, January 19th, exactly one day before Obama leaves office. But the change of administrations will give opponents an avenue to stop the rule.
Donald Trump has promised to roll back many of Obama’s regulations and put miners back to work. If congress passes a resolution of disapproval of the regulation and Trump signs the resolution, then the new Stream Protection Rule will be voided.
That’s what should happen, but in the meantime the outgoing president is hurling one more Hail Mary government overreach for one last score against the coal industry.