In DepthENVIRONMENTAL POLICY

Demise of stream rule won't revitalize coal industry

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Science  17 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6326, pp. 674-675
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6326.674

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Summary

Environmentalists were outraged earlier this month after the Republican-led Congress used an obscure law to erase a new regulation aimed at reducing the environmental damage caused by coal mining. The votes to undo the so-called stream protection rule, released last month on President Barack Obama's last day in office, were "a disgraceful opening salvo from this Congress, as they begin to try and do the bidding of big polluters," Michael Brune, executive director of the San Francisco, California–based Sierra Club, said in a statement. But the demise of the rule, which took regulators years to craft, drew a less impassioned reaction from a scientist on the front lines of the fight over coal mining. The rule had been watered down in its final form, they say, and would not have barred one of the most destructive mining practices in Appalachia: blasting away mountaintops to uncover coal seams and piling the debris in adjacent stream valleys. And because the rule's demise won't do much to ease the economic headwinds buffeting the United States's coalfields, it is unlikely to unleash a mining boom. Still, environmentalists are bracing for more bad news. The stream rule was killed as part of an ongoing purge of science-based regulations approved late in the Obama administration. Using an obscure law, Republicans are expected to repeal about a half-dozen regulations. Potential targets include rules designed to reduce emissions of methane, a potent warming gas, improve the energy efficiency of vehicles and appliances, and new land use planning guidelines for public lands.