Coal rule killed by U.S. Congress, others near chopping block

By Reuters/Lisa Lambert   February 3, 2017 | 08:07 am GMT+7
Coal rule killed by U.S. Congress, others near chopping block
Yellow mine waste water is seen at the entrance to the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colorado, in this picture released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken August 5, 2015. Photo by Reuters/EPA/Handout/File Photo

The U.S. Congress moved swiftly on Thursday to undo Obama-era rules on the environment, corruption, labor and guns, with the Senate wiping from the books a rule aimed at reducing water pollution.

By a vote of 54-45, the Senate approved a resolution already passed in the House of Representatives to kill the rule aimed at keeping pollutants out of streams in areas near mountaintop removal coal-mining sites.

The resolution now goes to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it quickly. It was only the second time the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to stop newly minted regulations in their tracks, has been used successfully since it was passed in 2000.

The Senate then turned to an equally controversial rule requiring mining and energy companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron to disclose taxes and other payments they make to governments at home and abroad. Democrats, who cannot filibuster the resolution, attempted to slow the process by pushing debate late into the night, with a vote scheduled for shortly after 6:30 a.m. on Friday.

Republicans are using their control of Congress and the White House to attack regulations they believe hurt the economy. They cast the stream protection rule as harming industry and usurping state rights.

"The Obama Administration's stream buffer rule was an attack against coal miners and their families," said the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, adding it had threatened jobs in his home state of Kentucky.

Environmental activists and many Democrats said it would have made drinking water safer by monitoring for pollutants such as lead.

"Given that many of these toxins are known to cause birth defects, developmental delays, and other health and environmental impacts, this basic monitoring provision was essential," said Jeni Collins, associate legislative representative for environmental group Earthjustice.

The coal industry hopes the repeal will lead Trump to overturn a moratorium by former President Barack Obama's administration on some coal leases.

Senator Joe Manchin, who represents West Virginia, historically coal country, was one of the few Democrats who supported killing the rule. He told CNN more than 400 changes had been made to the regulation as it was drafted.

"There's nobody in West Virginia that wants dirty water and dirty air, but you can't throw 400 different regulations ... on top of what we already have and expect anyone to survive," he said.

Guns, pay discrimination

Also on Thursday, the House on Thursday overturned Obama administration rules addressing pay discrimination at federal contractors and requiring expanded background checks for gun purchasers who receive Social Security benefits and have a history of mental illness. It plans on Friday to kill a measure addressing methane emissions on public lands. The Senate will then take all three up.

The Senate is also targeting rules enacted in the final months of Obama's administration for extinction. Senator David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia, introduced on Wednesday a resolution for killing one intended to protect users of gift and prepaid cards.

Under the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers can vote to undo regulations with a simple majority. Agencies cannot revisit overturned regulations. Timing in the law means any regulation enacted since May is eligible for repeal.

The House already approved a resolution ending the rule that requires oil companies to publicly state taxes and payments, which is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law.

Republicans and some oil and mining companies say the rule is burdensome and costly and duplicates other long-standing regulations.

Supporters of the rule see it as vital for exposing bribery and questionable financial ties U.S. companies may have with foreign governments, as well as showing shareholders how their money is spent.

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