Goodbye, Coal Pollution Rule


President Donald Trump officially killed the stream protection rule last week, scrubbing an Obama regulation that would have limited the dumping of mining waste in streams.

Now environmentalists are wondering what they can do about it. The short answer: not much.

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They could try to sue. But courts don’t like to second-guess Congress when it passes laws.

They could test a part of the law used to kill the rule, known as the Congressional Review Act, that says an agency can never again revisit the same area once the CRA has been triggered. But that would require an administration willing to spend a lot of time and energy on something that’s never been tried before.

They could lobby Congress to pass a law containing the same provisions that were in the stream rule. But that won’t happen until 2020 at the earliest, because it would require Democratic control of Congress and the White House.

Then again, the whole dustup might not matter, because coal’s on its way out anyway, and the previous stream rule, dating back to 1983, remains in force.

Environmentalists don’t quite buy it. They say coal’s going to be with us for years to come, and the old rule has never been enforced properly.

Still, a consensus is forming that Trump’s success in canceling the stream rule was mostly symbolic. It lets him show his supporters that he’s serious about cutting regulations, and it heartens his supporters in coal country who’ve been hearing him say for months that he’s going to bring back coal jobs. In the end, that might be the stream rule’s lasting legacy—as a political prop.

You can read more in my stories “Stream Protection Rule Declared (Almost) Dead: Now What?” and my upcoming one “Death of Stream Rule Won’t Mean More Pollution.”

--By Stephen Lee