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States sue Obama administration over Stream Protection Rule

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States sue Obama administration over Stream Protection Rule

Thirteen states are suing the Obama administration over its Stream Protection Rule.

The challenge to the rule is being led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. According to a news release from Morrisey, many of the states also asked Congress to revoke the rule.

"We cannot stand for the unlawful, last-minute antics of this administration," Morrisey said. "Such a regulation would drastically reduce — if not eliminate — coal mining across large portions of West Virginia. This rule must be stopped."

The final version of the new regulation was issued Dec. 19, 2016. The U.S. Department of the Interior described the rule as "responsible" and a "modern and balanced approach" to energy policy.

The Stream Protection Rule revises U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement regulations to define material damage to water outside of the permit area. It also adds requirements for identifying mining related impacts on groundwater and surface water and monitoring requirements.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, argues the rule ignores Congress' instruction in the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act that states should be the primary regulators deciding how coal mines operate. The states are asking the court to vacate the rule.

Participating in the lawsuit are Ohio, West Virginia, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. The same states also sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggesting that the Congressional Review Act could be used to disapprove the rule and nullify its effect.

A coalition of environmental groups have filed a motion to defend the Stream Protection Rule against this and earlier challenges.

"Clean water protections shouldn't be controversial, especially when they are so thoroughly rooted in existing law and can help protect local communities from harm to their streams, including harm from dangerous pollutants leaking into their waterways from mining sites," said a statement from Bill Price, senior organizing representative for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Appalachia. "The Stream Protection Rule is about clean water for everyone and holding mining companies accountable to the people who they endanger. We look forward to protecting the basic right to clean water and healthy streams."

Murray Energy Corp. has been an outspoken critic of the legislation. When it was released, the company issued a statement calling the rule "illegal and destructive" and suggested it would "destroy longwall mining in the United States."