The Republican-controlled House approved a bill this week blocking new Obama administration regulations designed to reduce the environmental impact of coal mining on the nation’s streams.
The White House has vowed to veto the bill, saying the proposed rules would protect about 6,500 miles of streams nationwide while ensuring that mountains damaged by coal mining are restored once mining is completed.
The bill was approved Tuesday, 235-188, and now goes to the Senate.
The Obama administration says the long-planned stream-protection rules will result in modest job losses once they are finalized later this year.
But Republicans said tens of thousands of jobs in the coal industry would be lost. Coal already is struggling under steep competition from cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas, as well as regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas pollution that contributes to climate change.
U.S. coal production has fallen to its lowest level in nearly 30 years, and several coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent months, including two of the country’s biggest coal producers, Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Missouri based Arch Coal Inc.
Rep Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., said the stream-protection rule would wipe out thousands of jobs in West Virginia while raising energy costs for businesses and families.
“West Virginia is blessed to be abundant in natural resources. Unfortunately, the president is intent on destroying coal as a domestic energy source,” Mooney said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said passage of the House bill “halts a destructive rulemaking process from the Obama administration and provides an avenue for collaborative approaches designed to address deficiencies in the existing rule, save jobs and protect the American taxpayer.”
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., said the bill would result in negative health effects for communities where mining occurs.
Current federal regulations designed to protect streams near coal mines date back to 1983. The proposed rule would maintain a buffer zone that prevents coal mining from within 100 feet of streams to prevent debris from being dumped into the water. But the proposal also sets clearer guidelines for companies to follow when exceptions to the 100-foot buffer occur.
The Interior Department said the proposed rule would require companies to restore streams and return mined areas to a condition capable of supporting the land uses available before mining activities took place. Companies also would have to replant native trees and vegetation.
The administration said the proposed rule, which has been under development for more than five years, is needed to keep pace with changes in science and mining practices that have evolved over the past three decades. The biggest impact will be felt in states such as West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.