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Senate keeps up assault on Interior's Stream Protection Rule for coal producers

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Senate keeps up assault on Interior's Stream Protection Rule for coal producers

The U.S. Senate passed a joint resolution to overturn the U.S. Department of the Interior's Stream Protection Rule for coal producers, further eroding the Obama-era regulation's chances of survival.

The Senate voted 54-45 on Feb. 2 to pass H.J. Res. 38, which would repeal the rule finalized in December 2016 and prevent the department from crafting substantially similar regulations in the future. One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted against the bill, and four Democrats supported the measure: Joe Manchin, West Virginia; Heidi Heitkamp, North Dakota; Joe Donnelly, Indiana; and Claire McCaskill, Missouri.

The rule, which set new water quality monitoring and restoration requirements for coal producers operating near streams, encountered fierce opposition from industry members and coal-state lawmakers. National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn said on a Jan. 27 call with reporters that at least a third of the U.S. coal mining workforce would be lost as a result of the rule. Many large coal-producing states also said Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, or OSMRE, failed to properly include them in the rule-making process.

"Not only did the Department of the Interior and OSMRE fail to consult with stakeholders and consider the economic impacts, including the possible elimination of thousands of jobs, but they also refused to acknowledge that the rule overlapped with existing regulations already on the books from other environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act," Manchin said after the Senate vote. "I am glad we were able to come together to pass this commonsense reversal of these harmful Obama-era regulations."

The Senate voted on H.J. Res. 38 a day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the resolution. The Senate is also scheduled to vote soon on H.J. Res. 41, which would eliminate a U.S. SEC rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose any payments they make to U.S. or foreign governments for resource extraction. Both resolutions were promulgated under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn recent regulations with approval from a simple majority of House and Senate members.

Both bills now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign them into law. The White House said the Stream Protection Rule would "establish onerous requirements for coal mining operations, and impose significant compliance burdens on America's coal production. ... The administration is committed to reviving America's coal mining communities, which have been hurting for too long."

The White House made similar criticisms of the SEC rule, which it said would place U.S. businesses at "a competitive disadvantage in cases where their foreign competitors are not subject to similar rules."