Coal has provided almost half of America’s electricity over the past decade. This affordable natural resource is an integral part of our domestic energy portfolio, and technological improvements mean coal is burning cleaner today than ever before. In fact, coal plants built today can be as much as 99% cleaner than ones built 40 years ago.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration promulgated numerous rules and regulations to shutter coal mines and power plants in its relentless War on Coal. During the Obama presidency, the United States lost over 80,000 coal jobs, and more than 400 coal mines were closed.
The Stream Protection Rule (SPR) was the president’s parting shot to the coal industry. Though its name implies an admirable goal, the rule’s intent is anything but. Coal mining is already one of the most heavily regulated industries in America in order to protect the local environment. Previous to this rule, the Department of the Interior (DOI) already mandated that no surface area within 100 feet of a stream could be disturbed by mining or used for dumping mine waste unless it was determined the stream’s environmental quality would not be compromised in accordance with the Clean Water Act.
For many years, these standards sufficed. However, the Obama Administration issued its new iteration of the rule in December 2016, which now requires a dizzying assortment of environmental testing and creates even more regulatory red tape on top of already stringent environmental standards. Even worse, the DOI refused to provide states with the technical reports, data, and analyses it used in its environmental reviews to draft and justify this new rule.
The SPR, if left in place, is bad news for Ohio and the entire Appalachian Region. Ohio ranks 12th in the nation in coal production with over 33,000 jobs dependent on the coal industry. Without the SPR, Ohio has already suffered significant job losses in the industry. In 2015, Murray Energy was forced to lay off thousands of workers, and Washington County’s very own Muskingum River Power Plant was closed. A fully implemented Stream Protection Rule would only exacerbate the job losses Ohioans have seen.
As a strong proponent of a comprehensive energy plan, I recognize that while we must make investments in wind, solar, hydropower, and nuclear energy, coal will continue to play an integral role in meeting our energy needs. It cannot be replaced overnight, contrary to what former President Obama seems to believe. Coal supplies much of our nation’s electricity. It is foolish not to recognize that a strong coal industry means a stronger American energy sector.
For Ohio, a thriving clean coal industry is of paramount importance. Fifty-nine percent of our electricity comes from coal power plants, and eight of our 10 largest plants rely on coal. The SPR would mean higher electricity prices, and many of Ohio’s most vulnerable people rely on access to affordable energy from coal. This rule only makes it harder for them to pay basic living expenses when more of their paycheck goes to their electricity bill.
Additionally, Ohio’s coal industry is worth over $1.08 billion and provides millions of dollars in tax revenue. The estimated national decrease in federal and state taxes collected from coal due to the rule would total $3.1 to 6.4 billion annually. The closure of the Muskingum River Power Plant evidences the repercussions that follow coal plant closures. The Fort Frye and Wolf Creek school districts have both lost funding due to tax revenue losses.
Being raised in a coal mining community, and as a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus, I recognize the importance of Ohio’s coal industry. In October 2015, other members of the House and I wrote to the Appropriations Committee urging it to defund the SPR when first proposed. I later signed a similar letter to Speaker Paul Ryan. I was also a supporter of the STREAM Act, which passed the House in January 2016. If enacted into law, it would have required the DOI to be more transparent about the methodology used to create its rules lest they be withdrawn.
Fortunately, under the Congressional Review Act, Congress will be able to overturn any rule or regulation issued within 60 legislative days with simple majorities in each chamber. As such, I am cosponsoring a joint resolution to disapprove of the SPR, and I am confident that President Trump, who campaigned on reversing the previous administration’s War on Coal, will keep his promise and sign this resolution, which is being voted on today.
Coal is an integral part of Ohio’s energy sector and provides good-paying jobs for thousands of Ohioans. It’s time we protected them.