Congress Votes to Overturn Stream Protection Rule

America’s streams and rivers are a vital part of our national heritage, which is why a December regulation barred mining companies from dumping waste in streams. Unfortunately, Republicans appear to disagree with the millions of Americans who place a high value on conserving the natural environment for future generations.

On Wednesday, February 1, 2017, the House voted 228 to 194 to repeal the rule, in a sign of changes to come. Notably, four Democrats crossed the aisle to support the repeal: Sanford Bishop (GA), Collin Peterson (ND), Jim Costa (CA), and Henry Cuellar (TX).

Unsurprisingly, on Thursday, February 2, the Senate joined the House in voting to rescind the Stream Protection Rule. The decision came so quickly that the Department of the Interior didn’t even have time to work with mining companies on establishing a framework for enacting it.

The Office of Surface Reclamation Mining and Enforcement engaged in detailed research and discussion to develop the Stream Protection Rule. It was one among a flurry of rules developed as President Obama left office — and as predicted, Congress is using a little-known device known as the Congressional Review Act to overturn it.

Generally, when a government agency makes a rule, that’s it. However, the CRA provides a narrow window during which Congress can pass a resolution disapproving of a law and throw it out.

And under the CRA, a government agency can’t submit a replacement rule that is “substantially” similar. The wording is so vague as to be nearly useless. Does it mean the Department of the Interior can never propose a stream protection rule again? That any new legislation would have to cover different issues?

Thanks to the flurry of last-minute regulation, dozens of rules across federal agencies are subject to the CRA.

In the case of the Stream Protection Rule, environmental advocates predicted that Congress would target the regulation, which updated 30-year-old rulemaking designed to protect water quality. Officials also considered the interests of mining companies and others with a vested stake in extracting natural resources, aiming to strike a balance that would benefit everyone. That wasn’t enough for anti-regulation Republicans, however.

The origins of the rule lie in protests from coal country constituents who were furious about coal dust in their water. It took over a decade to develop, and it doesn’t just ban dumping of coal debris in lakes and streams — a major issue in an era of mountaintop removal mining. It also requires companies to preemptively develop environmental remediation plans before opening mines, demonstrating that they have a plan for handling waste and cleaning up streams.

The rule affected 6,000 miles of streams choked with toxic debris. The government also estimated that the legislation would create jobs in coal mining regions, partially through a shift of resources — skilled professionals have to help mines develop environmental plans and do the physical work of safely relocating mining waste.

This isn’t the only environmental-related activity Republicans have been up to. House Republicans also voted to overturn a rule that required mining companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments in connection with their operations. It was designed to tackle graft and corruption — and the vote fell on the same day that the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson, former Exxon CEO, as Secretary of State.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency, under direction from the White House, withdrew a mercury protection rule in a move that the Natural Resources Defense Council claims was illegal. The organization filed a lawsuit just days later.

The status quo for coal mining will remain, for now — unless Congress moves to pass a Stream Protection Rule of its own, or the Department of the Interior develops a new approach to this regulatory issue.

The bigger worry may lie ahead, though; with Republicans demonstrating an interest in dismantling environmental protection regulations and the checks designed to keep corporations honest, it’s possible we may take another big step backward for environmental protection.

Photo credit: Jake Cook

69 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

This is good because the EPA was even regulating water as small as a mun puddle. Such over reach & abuse of power!

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Lisa H
Lisa H1 years ago

Is it me or didn't the Cheeto run on keeping the water and air clean? The one of his big 'show and tell'moments is his big-boy name on rolling back dumping protections for streams near coal and other plants.

Is he thinking of the *other* types of plants?

*bangs head on table*

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S M
S M1 years ago

So now Americans and the rest of world can assume the rivers and streams of America are as polluted and deathly as China's and other far east countries, - It'll give Trump and China's Pres something to talk of and compare next phone call, compete as to who has most polluted!

Does this mean the likes of Flint will have no comeback.in law against polluters nor compensation?

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Ana Luisa Luque M.

So, the republicans, how they think their water comes from? Mars?

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Sheila D
Sheila D1 years ago

Guess the super rich don't drink water. We need to support all those Debra G. mentioned and more, otherwise we'll all be buying our water from big corporations.

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Cathy B
Cathy B1 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Debra G
Debra G1 years ago

The environmental non-profits (NRDC, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, WaterKeepers, etc.) are working overtime to sue over dismantling these new rules. We need to support them: donate, contact your Congresscritters, write letters to your local newspapers, etc. it will be exhausting, but Mother Earth needs us.

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Laura R
Laura R1 years ago

Thank you for the post.

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Veronica-Mae soar
v soar1 years ago

My heart is heavy with pain for the thought of what will happen in America in the coming years. When money rues there is nothing these dreadful people will not do. They know nothing of Nature and care even less.
LOOK…..
Nature is weeping – her tears are flooding the valleys, her wails toss the trees.
LISTEN….

“I gave you life, I AM your life,.
I nurture you.
Without me you are nothing – dead.
I am your mother.
I feed and clothe you.
I provide the very air you breathe, the precious water you drink.
I sustain you.
I give you beauty every day to gladden your heart and raise your spirits”
“And how do you repay me?”
“You tear out my lungs, stop up the flow of my life, poison me, bury me, think me of no consequence.”
“You kill the brothers and sisters with whom you share this world and destroy their habitats”
“I give freely and bounteously all you need, yet you sell and buy me and tear me apart, seeking ever more wealth.”
“Those who steward, protect and sustain me are regarded as nothing - of no value”
BEWARE !
“For in your short-sighted arrogance and greed you will bring destruction to your world. Crippled, poisoned and weakene

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