The Senate voted Thursday to kill an 11th-hour regulation of the previous administration, stopping new rules restricting coal mining. The 54-45 vote, following House approval Wednesday, sends the resolution to President Donald Trump. Assuming the president signs it, it would be only the second time that lawmakers canceled a regulation under the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that gives legislators 60 legislative days to block new regulations from the executive branch.
A veto threat from then-President Obama kept Congress from acting during the past eight years. But there are many regulations adopted in the waning days of the Obama administration that Republicans have in the crosshairs.
“On its way out the door, the Obama administration forced nearly 40 — 40 — major and very costly regulations on the American people,” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “Fortunately, we now have the opportunity to work with the new president to begin bringing relief from those burdensome regulations.”
Trump has made regulatory reform a top priority. Earlier this week, he signed an executive order requiring the repeal of two existing regulations in order to adopt a new one.
After the vote on the coal cleanup regulation, senators began debating a resolution to kill a regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission to energy companies to disclose the payments they make to foreign governments for natural resources. The Senate will vote on that Friday morning.
The regulation voted down Thursday, known as the Stream Protection Rule, included more than 400 regulatory changes under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The Interior Department finalized the changes in December. Supporters argued the rules would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 miles of forest by prohibiting mining companies from dumping debris into nearby waters. It narrowed exceptions for a pre-existing 100-foot buffer on coal mining near water.
McConnell called it a “blatant attack on coal miners” and pointed to one study indicating that it would put up to a third of coal-related jobs at risk. He said the Kentucky Coal Association called it a “regulation in search of a problem.”
Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, was the only Republican to join 44 Democrats in voting “no.” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) argued that the regulation was necessary to protect the environment.
“Regardless of whether you voted for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, nobody wants to live in a dirty environment where we don’t have clean water, clean rivers, clean streams or clean air,” she said. “Once again, we’re being told to choose between a clean environment and creating jobs.”
Coal-state Democrats, though, broke with their party.
“There’s no one in West Virginia that wants dirty water or dirty air,” said that state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.
The senator said he urged Obama administration officials to consult with affected states. “They did nothing. They would not reach out to us, whatsoever,” he said.
Manchin said the regulation was “excessive and duplicative,” and that it would cripple his state’s businesses and families.
“Tell me, what four hours of the day do you want your electricity to work? What four hours of the day do you want your refrigerator to stay cold?” he said. “What four hours of the day do you want to heat your home? Tell me what four hours of the day that you take for granted that you want that everything and anything you want works 24 hours a day?”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said regulators devised the rules for the Appalachian Mountains region.
“Yet, the former administration made this rule applicable to the entire nation,” she said.