The Death of the Stream Protection Rule

By Isaac Leal

The Stream Protection Rule aimed to:

“protect water supplies, surface water and groundwater quality, streams, fish, wildlife, and related environmental values from the adverse impacts of surface coal mining operations and provide mine operators with a regulatory framework to avoid water pollution and the long-term costs associated with water treatment.”

This regulation became effective on January 19, 2017. It was repealed in the House on February 1, 2017 and in the Senate the next day using a convenient tool called the Congressional Review Act of 1996. On, February 16, 2017, Trump finalized the repeal.

For decades, mountaintop removal (a controversial method of mining for coal, involving total mountaintop deforestation or excavation) has polluted stream ecosystems. The U.S. Department of Interior (agency responsible for federal land and natural resource management/conservation) was tasked with enforcing the rule. In the process, it would help restore hydrological, ecological, and economic stability in vulnerable, coal-rich areas such as central Appalachia. Though imperfect, the regulation was supposed to be an improvement on the vague environmental protection guidelines included in the antiquated Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

Repealing this regulation has serious negative impacts on communities and the environment. By allowing increased coal dumping, this administration is endorsing higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and birth defects in some of the poorest neighborhoods. Politicians on the right have argued that the Stream Protection Rule would have killed 124 jobs per year. But the overall costs of stream pollution – including remediation costs, biodiversity risk and water contamination and respiratory disease – build on one another, outweighing any marginal proposed decline in employment from the regulation In fact, efforts to implement the regulation and conserve middle Appalachian mountain ecosystem would actually create jobs.

While it is too late to petition the White House to veto the repeal and the current executive administration is unlikely to prioritize environmental protection, there are ways to get involved. Engage in local and state coalitions advocating for basic rights such as clean air or clean water. Call, email, or meet with local, state, and national elected officials to make your voice and concerns heard. Vote accordingly in 2018. And in 2020.

As Congress and the Trump’s administration, entangled with conflicts of interest and fossil fuel agendas, dismantles environmental protections, there are actual livelihoods being compromised. The environment is a pawn in this political machine, and it cannot continue.

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Isaac Leal is a first-year Environmental Economics and Management major in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He is passionate about serious action and direct change, especially when it comes to the fundamental rights of others and the environment, but can also write and debate when it is necessary. He also cares deeply about others and their perspectives and tries to incorporate that into his worldview. Isaac is also known for being a fan of pickled foods, criticisms of dialectics, and lively camaraderie.