This week, Republicans began the process of dismantling Barack Obama’s recent environmental regulations by rolling back the 2016 stream protection rule, which would have prevented coal companies from dumping mining waste into waterways. A little-known law called the Congressional Review Act allowed the House and Senate to overturn the rule before it was able to even take effect. Worse yet, according to the Act, similar legislation can’t be introduced in the future without Congressional approval.
The rule was intended to minimize the environmental impact of surface mining, which can contaminate waterways and leave them toxic for nearby populations which depend on them for drinking water. The Interior Department estimated it would have protected 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forest across the US.
So why would the Republicans kill a rule that protects their constituents from toxic pollution? According to Congress, keeping coal debris away from water is causing the mining industry to go into massive decline. If that sounds like a flimsy justification, it is – as Vox explains, the decline of the coal industry is related to the rise in cheap natural gas in the US market, not environmental regulations.
While this move may seem ominous for environmentalists, it’s important to keep the larger picture in perspective. This rule was mostly chosen by Republicans because it was an easy target and there was a simple way to overturn it. Other conservative goals, like abolishing the EPA or gutting the Endangered Species Act, will take significantly more time and effort to accomplish simply because they’re already well-established and entrenched in our government.