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Rural Blog: Congress blocks Stream Protection Rule for surface mines; Trump expected to sign bill

During President Obama’s final week in office, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which spent nearly the entire eight years of his presidency working on the Stream Protection Rule, on Dec. 19 issued a final version with new limits on coal mining near waterways.

Late last week, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 54-45 to kill the rule, Devin Henry reports for The Hill. The House passed its bill 229-194. Republicans say President Trump supports the legislation, meaning the rule will come off the books as soon as he signs it into law.

“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,” Henry writes. “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.”

When the rule was announced in December the U.S. Department of the Interior “said that it would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby waters,” Kevin Freking and Matthew Daly report for The Associated Press. The Senate and House votes are “the first in a series of actions Republicans are expected to take in coming weeks to reverse years of what they call excessive regulation during Obama’s tenure.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who hails from the nation’s No. 4 coal-producing state, called the stream rule “an attack against coal miners and their families,” and that it threatened coal jobs and would cause major damage to coal-reliant communities.

He told reporters, “The legislation we passed today will help stop this disastrous rule and bring relief to coal miners and their families.”

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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