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House votes to unravel coal miner streams rule, SEC oil and gas reporting rule

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Feb. 1 to repeal the Interior Department's Stream Protection Rule for coal producers, as well as financial reporting requirements for oil and gas companies. The bills are part of Republican efforts to rescind recent Obama administration rules using the Congressional Review Act.

The House voted 228-194 to pass H.J. Res. 38, a GOP-sponsored resolution that seeks to overturn the Stream Protection Rule that Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement finalized in December 2016, shortly before former President Barack Obama left office. The coal industry and Republican lawmakers blasted the rule, which adds new water quality monitoring and restoration requirements for coal producers operating near streams.

The U.S. Senate, which has a companion measure to H.J. Res. 38, is expected to pass the measure, with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress. The resolution will almost certainly have backing from GOP President Donald Trump, who has vowed to reduce regulations for energy producers and other sectors of the economy.

"This regulation is an attack on coal families. It jeopardizes jobs and transfers power away from state and local governments," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who introduced the Senate disapproval resolution. McConnell said one analysis estimated the Stream Protection Rule could threaten one-third of U.S. coal mining jobs.

But Democrats and environmental groups protested the bill, saying it would block crucial protections for communities near mining operations.

"If this rule were to be overturned, American families living near impacted streams and rivers will not be protected from toxic chemicals getting into their water," U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said a day before the House vote. Pallone added that because disapproval resolutions under the Congressional Review Act prevent substantially similar rules from being made in the future, "affected communities might never be protected from the impacts of mining waste in their water."

The House on Feb. 1 also passed a resolution in a 235-187 vote to overturn a rule from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that requires resource extraction issuers to disclose payments to U.S. or foreign governments for commercial development of oil, natural gas and minerals. The regulation, which the SEC adopted in June 2016 in response to the Dodd-Frank Act, sought to promote greater transparency. But critics said the rule was overly burdensome and placed U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage by "forcing them to disclose confidential business information to their private and international competitors," said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., who sponsored the legislation.

The bills are two of several disapproval resolutions that GOP lawmakers have introduced recently under the Congressional Review Act to strike down rules finalized in the Obama administration's final months. The CRA allows Congress to overturn regulations finalized in the last 60 legislative days with approval from a simple majority of House and Senate lawmakers. On Feb. 3, the House will also vote on a resolution to repeal the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's rule to limit methane emissions from venting and flaring at oil and gas operations on public lands. The BLM finalized that rule in November 2016.