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Congress Should Eliminate Obama's Stream Protection Rule

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will use the Congressional Review Act to consider a joint resolution of disapproval aimed at eliminating the Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule, a coal mining regulation issued under the Obama Administration. The Competitive Enterprise Institute supports this resolution of disapproval because the stream buffer zone rulemaking demonstrated much that is wrong with the regulatory state.

This rule is supposed to replace a rule promulgated by the George W. Bush administration. At the outset of President Obama’s presidency, the Interior Department simply revoked the Bush rule, but a federal court blocked this action because it bypassed procedural safeguards. As a result, the Obama administration undertook a seven-year rulemaking, and the final stream buffer zone rule was issued during Obama’s lame duck session.

This timing raises an obvious question: If the Bush rule was so inadequate to protect the environment, then why did the administration spend so much time on the replacement rule? Further, the rulemaking itself was characterized by an unacceptable absence of transparency.

After reports regarding job losses connected to the rule made the news, the House Natural Resources Committee was repeatedly rebuffed in its efforts to oversee the rulemaking. The Interior Department even ignored subpoenas issued by the committee. Eight of ten states withdrew from agreements to cooperate on the rule because the Interior Department would not share key information, and the Interior Department subsequently ignored a letter from 19 states requesting that it re-engage with them on the rule.

By themselves, these procedural abuses would be sufficient grounds for lawmakers to prevent the Stream Buffer Zone rule from taking effect. But the rule itself is also bad policy. The rule would have a profound impact on coal miners and threaten one-third of the nation’s coal mining workforce.

The entire point of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act is to sanction surface mining. But Obama’s rule would effectively preclude mining in much of the steep terrain of Appalachia—hitting this region’s economy the hardest. This is contrary to the law’s fundamental purpose.

For these reasons, CEI urges members of Congress to eliminate the Department of Interior’s harmful Stream Protection Rule.

For more congressional reform ideas, see the energy and environment chapter of Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 115th Congress.

>> Letter to Members of Congress