Environment

Republicans Wipe Out Stream Protection Rule, Giving Gift to Big Coal While Threatening Public and Environmental Health

"Donald Trump didn’t do this—rank-and-file Republicans did," said Rep. Raúl Grijalva.

Production useful minerals. the dump truck
Photo Credit: abutyrin/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C.—House Republicans began their all-out assault on regulatory health, safety and financial protections Wednesday by voting to repeal the Stream Protection Rule, which would help protect waterways and communities from the negative effects of unchecked coal mining. Following the just-concluded House vote to wipe out the Stream Protection Rule, a Department of the Interior regulation that regulates the dumping of waste from mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said the vote was a stark reminder of the fact that Republicans in Congress, just as much as President Donald Trump, are responsible for wiping out our nation’s public health and environmental legacy.

“President Trump didn’t make this happen—rank-and-file Republicans passed this bill today,” Grijalva said. “His outrageous and unpopular behavior has drawn attention away from the fact that his party is wiping out public health and environmental standards every day from the floor of Congress. The American people didn’t vote in November to weaken our environmental laws or have mining waste dumped in their communities. But that’s what this bill does, and that’s what my Republican colleagues voted for today.”

In a just-published op-ed, Grijalva urges environmentalists to “get up off the mat” and fight the impending attacks on bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, pointing to the Republican Party’s active hostility to the environment as an even greater threat than the George W. Bush administration’s attitude of neglect.

The vote to eliminate the Stream Protection Rule—developed over the course of seven years, with input from more than 30 public and stakeholder meetings and 114,000 public comments—came after just one hour of floor debate, and no congressional hearings at all since the rule was first published a year and a half ago. The rule updates 30-year-old coal mining regulations and, among other measures, prohibits MTR mining if streams or rivers would be permanently destroyed, as they often are when mountain waste and rubble are dumped into nearby water sources.

The rule is especially important to protect public health. From 2000 to 2003, birth defects in MTR mining counties were 42 percent higher compared to non-MTR Appalachian counties, according to a landmark study published in 2011 in the journal Environmental Research. Communities near MTR sites also have higher incidences of lung cancer, heart disease, and other health problems.

Congressional Republicans and the coal industry have used inflated figures to overstate the SPR’s economic impact. The National Mining Association, in a widely rebuked study, suggested in 2015 that the rule could lead to the loss of as many as 78,000 coal mining jobs—even though there are currently less than 54,000 coal mining jobs nationwide. That figure is far fewer than the more than 200,000 Americans employed in the solar power industry alone.

Adam Sarvana is the communications director for Democratic staff in the House Committee on Natural Resources.

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