Yesterday, the Department of the Interior released regulations that seek to protect streams from coal mining. The response was immediate and contentious. On today's The Cutting Edge, Greenwire reporter Manuel Quiñones explains who will face the greatest impacts from the rule's implementation and previews the steps Congress may take to stop the Obama administration from moving forward with these regulations.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Yesterday the Department of Interior released a rule that seeks to protect streams from coal mining. The response was immediate and contentious. Greenwire's Manuel Quiñones is here with details on who's most affected and also the steps that Congress may take to stop Interior from moving forward. Manuel, how broad is this rule and who faces the greatest risk from it?
Manuel Quiñones: Well, it's definitely significant. It includes new monitoring requirements, baseline data collection requirements, new bonding requirements, and Interior says it will protect thousands of streams from the effects of coal mining. On the other hand, you have environmentalists who wanted what they call a strong buffer between mining and streams, and they say what -- even though Interior proposed several options, the preferred option is not as strong as they wanted to see. In the end, it's because the general agenda from the environmental communities to ban mountaintop-removal mining, and even though this curtails it somewhat, it's not even close to a ban. The most affected states will be out east, especially in Appalachia, which has already been hard-hit. They won't see a lot of job losses according to Interior, but they will see some severance tax go down, some production go down, and definitely economic benefits, or economic losses.
Monica Trauzzi: Following the rule's release, Senator Barrasso of Wyoming called the rule an overreach that's designed to put the coal industry out of business. What's the economic strategy behind the rule? And you mentioned minimal job losses according to EPA. Does industry say that that's the case as well?
Manuel Quiñones: Well, industry's still concerned that this will have significant job losses, and even if the job losses themselves are not that significant, they're still worried about production issues, and states are worried about severance tax issues. States are also worried about having to do more in terms of regulation and having the federal government, the Interior Department and the Office of Surface Mining watching over their shoulder more. And now that we know that the industry in Appalachia has taken such a hard hit in recent years, this is a little bit more that, you know, even Interior says will affect them. Secretary Sally Jewell touched on that saying that, you know, the rule is a compromise between environmental protection and the economy, and she says -- she repeated the administration's claim, assertion that these communities need to work on economic diversification, not just focus on protecting coal jobs.
Monica Trauzzi: So how does this rule fit into the Obama administration's sort of broader energy development strategy?
Manuel Quiñones: Well, it definitely riffs on when the Obama administration first came in, there was a crackdown on mountaintop-removal mining, a multiagency effort. And this rule was originally supposed to come out several years ago, so this is still, you know, connected to that effort, which is somewhat ongoing. But it is definitely another rule of the long list of rules, you know, from safety to power plants to, you know, stream protection that affects the coal industry. So the industry particularly seeing this just another one of these things that they have to deal with.
Monica Trauzzi: So yesterday's news angered many members of Congress. Should we expect similar congressional action on this rule to what we've seen on some of the Obama administration's other rules that deal with coal?
Manuel Quiñones: Oh, of course. There's been efforts to halt or roll back the stream protection rule for several years, and what the release did is it gave lawmakers impetus to elevate those efforts. So there's a rider in the EPA Appropriations bill in the House. There are bills in both the House and Senate, and lawmakers yesterday said now that we have this, we're going to move forward with those even more.
Monica Trauzzi: Very interesting. We'll be watching. Thanks for coming on the show. More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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