Republicans on Thursday took one of their first steps to officially dismantle Obama-era environmental regulations by easing restrictions on coal mining, bolstering an industry that President Trump has made a symbol of America's neglected heartland.Using an obscure law that allows Congress to review regulations before they take effect, the Senate voted to reverse the Stream Protection Rule, which seeks to protect the nation's waterways from debris generated by a practice called surface mining. The Interior Department had said the rule would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests by keeping coal mining debris away from nearby waters.The Senate vote was 54 to 45, following a House vote for repeal on Wednesday.
Much of the political world's attention has been focused of late on Donald Trump and his White House's alarming antics, but developments at the other end of Capitol Hill shouldn't be overlooked.House Republicans voted yesterday, for example, to expand gun access for the mentally impaired. GOP lawmakers also voted this week to allow oil companies to hide payments to foreign governments, a bill Senate Republicans approved this morning.And then there's the Stream Protection Rule, which Republicans also voted to eliminate this week. The New York Times reported:
The Congressional Research Service recently published a report on the Stream Protection Rule, which congressional researchers said was an effective policy in protecting drinking water and combating climate change.The rule is nevertheless being eliminated. In the House, every Republican on the floor voted to kill the Stream Protection Rule, while every Democrat did the opposite. In the Senate, the outcome wasn't quite as one-sided, but the vote was largely along party lines.As for why, exactly, congressional Republicans have made this one of their top priorities -- note that they're tackling measures like these literally in Congress' first month -- Vox's Brad Plumer had a helpful piece explaining many of the substantive details on this.The politics of this, of course, are key. Republicans have spent years insisting that Appalachia is struggling as a result of President Obama's "war on coal," and by scrapping policies such as the Stream Protection Rule, GOP policymakers want affected areas to believe Republicans are going to help turn the region around.That's very unlikely. The coal industry has been steadily declining for decades for all sorts of reasons -- technological, geographic, environmental, the diversification of energy resources -- that aren't directly related to government policy.Occasionally, GOP leaders are candid about the future, as was the case with this McClatchy report two weeks ago: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said rolling back the Obama administration's environmental rules wouldn't entirely bring back the coal industry in eastern Kentucky."A New York Times report recently added, "[C]oal country is reckoning with an inconvenient truth: Experts say Mr. Trump's expansive campaign promise to 'put our miners back to work' will be very difficult to keep." Some in the industry are reaching similar conclusions.It's something to keep in mind as Republican policymakers in DC take steps like those we saw this week.