Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Shelley Moore (R-WV) and House Republicans from Ohio and West Virginia introduced a joint resolution of disapproval to overturn President Obama’s Stream Protection Rule.
The new rule is an update to the Stream Buffer Zone Rule and imposes new restrictions on surface coal mining near waterways. It was issued by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in late December, weeks before President Obama left office.
The regulation was immediately challenged in court by North Dakota and the Murray Energy Corporation, and nearly a dozen more states in a separate lawsuit, because it requires additional data gathering and monitoring around mine sites, and imposes new financial reclamation requirements for states.
Congressional Republicans argue that the Stream Protection Rule is a drastic overreach of the federal government that unfairly targets America’s coal industry and jobs. The introduction of the resolution is the formal kickoff campaign for conservation lawmakers to remove “burdensome” environmental regulations using the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
The CRA is a law that allows Congress to block executive action within the first 60 days of a new legislative session. It takes a simple majority in both the House and Senate to undo any last-minute regulations signed by the previous administration. With a majority in both chambers, Republicans can pass a joint resolution of disapproval and send it to President Trump to sign, thereby nullifying the rule.
The 60 day countdown begins this week, so Republicans and environmental groups are taking swift action. Once the joint resolution is introduced, it can move quickly to the President’s office because the law only allows up to 10 hours of debate in the House. The Senate cannot filibuster.
The Stream Protection Rule provides several protections to the water supply of local communities surrounded by coal mining operations. Mountaintop removal mining is one of the most damaging forms of coal mining and is responsible for destroying nearly 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia. Studies show that this form of mining leads to cancer, birth defects, asthma and poor health; in addition to threatening scarce water resources in arid regions of the country.
This new protection rule is needed to ensure that our communities have the information and tools needed to hold polluters accountable for damage done to its people, wildlife and livelihood.
A coalition of conservation and environmental justice groups have come together to defend the Stream Protection Rule and uphold its new safeguards.
What is the Stream Protection Rule?
The Stream Protection Rule was developed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to “to avoid or minimize impacts on surface water, groundwater, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources” from coal mining.
The rule requires companies to:
The regulation is controversial because it opens up on how to define “hydrologic balance” and how monitoring practices should be done.
Environmental advocates believe the rule wasn’t stringent enough because it didn’t fully restrict the dumping of debris or address the most destructive mining practices, but applauded the rule for making it more difficult for companies to pollute streams.
Last night my mother asked about the implications of the current administration’s view points on climate change. We discussed a range of topics, such as the war on science, and the role of the EPA, and the incredulity of how low income communities have water advisories because of years of acidification from coal mining.
Partway through the conversation my mom discusses what the future will look like if we don’t take immediate action, but I had to remind her that we’re already seeing the effects. We’re not just talking about the hottest years on record. We’re talking about cities having to deal with cleanups after hurricanes and superstorms; the collapse of agriculture because of drought and the food crisis it creates. We’re dealing with the mass migration of communities because their homes are slowly sinking into the earth.
We must realize that we’re not dealing in the abstract. This is happening right now.
Tuvalu, a small island nation in the South Pacific, has a total land area of 10 square miles. The average island height of the low-lying island ground is around 6.5 feet, with the country’s highest point only at 15 feet above sea level. Rising seas, storm surges and increasingly violent storms have destroyed villages, forcing generations of families to move to larger islands to seek refuge.
More than one million Syrian farmers were forced to move to overcrowded cities because of drought exacerbated by climate change. Water shortages, bad government policies and lack of employment opportunities, coupled with subsequent violence, forced Syrians to flee to Turkey, Greece and Western Europe. The drought will get worse as it continues across the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, causing more political, economic and social instability.
And it’s also happening here in the United States.
Since 1955, the Isle de Jean Charles – an island off the coast of Louisiana – has lost 98 percent of its landmass from encroaching waters from the Gulf of Mexico due to human activities. Climate change has exacerbated the issue.
In January 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the island $48 million as part of a $1 billion grant to help communities in 13 states adapt to climate change. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe, to which the majority of residents belong, became the first American community to relocate because of climate change.
Unfortunately, they will not be the last. It is projected that 414 cities in the U.S. will face similar problems to Tuvalu and Isle de Jean Charles.
More communities will migrate to new regions and compete for decreasing resources.
We must meet the needs for communities to adapt.
How will farmers and fishermen adjust to droughts, floods, water oceans and an increase in salinization? How will our government respond to vulnerable communities facing an increase in diseases and lack of access to fresh drinking water?
Our energy policies and climate action plans are connected to the refugee crisis. Let’s not wait until people have lost their homes to take action.
Take action to build support for international climate refugees, including the ones here at home.
Within hours of Donald J. Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States, the new administration made its position clear on the environment with the removal of almost reference of climate change on the White House website. The Trump administration launched the America First Energy Plan – a policy that aims to revive our coal industry and boost the economy through untapped natural gas reserves on protected, federal lands. The plan also calls for a commitment to clean coal technology.
Unfortunately, this is not an America first plan. Lifting restrictions and removing what is deemed “harmful and unnecessary policies” is not responsible environmental stewardship. It puts the needs of polluters first and Americans last. The fossil fuel industry benefits the most, not the average American. This drill, baby, drill proposal endangers the health, well-being and economies of our communities.
Sound energy policy cannot consist of clean coal technology because “clean coal” does not exist. Burning coal still produces carbon emissions and toxic waste and there are few technologies that exist for carbon capture and sequestration. Additionally, it’s cheaper for companies to pollute and have taxpayers pay for cleanup than it is to invest in environmentally friendly operations. It would take an act of Congress for these corporations to have an incentive to clean up.
In 2016 alone, there were more than 24 oil pipeline accidents in the United States. Thousands of Americans are still on a boil water advisory because of toxic waste in their water supply. In order for Americans to be truly first with our energy policies, we must ensure that politics doesn’t put our health and safety at risk.
There is a way to stimulate the economy and put Americans to work – through a green economy. We cannot just say the EPA will solely focus on protecting clean air and water resources, without enforcing regulations that make it happen. We must use sound science and move toward building a sustainable future. Americans will be last with an energy policy that puts fossil fuels first.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.