Providing coverage of Alaska and Northwest Canada's mineral industry
February 2017

Vol. 22, No. 7 Week of February 12, 2017

Mining News: Coal rule quashed

Congress passes resolution to upend midnight hour Obama regulation

Shane Lasley

Mining News

President Donald Trump is set to ink his signature on a resolution that overturns a midnight hour Obama administration rule that threatened U.S. coal miners with added regulatory burden.

The so-called Stream Protection Rule was touted by the Obama administration as a necessary clarification of the rules surrounding valley fill, a mining technique used in Appalachia that involves depositing overburden removed from hilltops in an adjacent valley and then re-contouring the landscape after mining is complete.

Usibelli Coal Mine Inc., which operates Alaska’s only currently producing coal operation, says the Stream Protection Rule is a “one-size-fits-all” regulation that attempts to address concerns in the eastern U.S. and apply them across the country, an approach that does not work for an area as unique as Alaska.

“Clearly, the Obama administration’s stream rule was not crafted with Alaska in mind. It appears to be a rule targeting the Appalachian region, and was then smeared across the country all the way up to Alaska,” said Joe Usibelli, president, Usibelli Coal Mine, currently the only coal miner operating in Alaska.

“The rule provides no discernable environmental benefits, while duplicating and interfering with existing state and federal rules that already provide robust protections for water quality and natural habitats,” added the third generation leader of the Interior Alaska coal mine.

While this piece of regulation is something that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, a bureau within the United States Department of Interior, worked on throughout most of Barack Obama’s presidency and was finalized just before he left office, it will likely be the first such mining related regulation cut under Trump.

Though the Stream Protection Rule died with Trump’s signature, it was Congress that initiated the stand against this coal regulation with House Joint Resolution 38.

Introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, on Jan. 30, H.J. Res. 38 was swiftly passed by both chambers, largely along party lines, by Feb. 2.

“In drafting this regulation, the Obama administration ignored the input and recommendations of states and stakeholders, and subverted the law to meet its policy objective- keeping coal in the ground,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, explained upon voting the resolution out of the Senate. “Left intact, this rule would have cost us jobs and revenues, from Alaska to Appalachia. By overturning it, we will avoid those significant impacts, and help ensure a continued supply of reliable, affordable energy for Americans all across the country.”

“This job-killing rule was issued by the Obama administration without considering the concerns and comments raised during the rulemaking process,” added Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. “What is worse the previous administration failed to meaningfully consult with states like Alaska during the writing of this flawed rule.”

This lack of consultation and the resultant negative effects to an otherwise environmentally sound coal mining sector in Alaska was reflected in broad opposition to the rule by Alaska and its lawmakers.

“Within the last few weeks, federal agencies have taken multiple actions that impede responsible resource development in our great state. This is one of the worst,” Alaska Gov. Bill Walker commented on the Stream Protection Rule.

Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth joined several other attorneys general in sending a letter to Congress, urging it to overturn the rule.

While Alaska does not host a coal mining sector as large as a number of other states, the nearly 1 million tons of coal produced at Usibelli is an important source of light and warmth for Interior Alaska residents, business and institutions.

"Alaska, especially, relies on its coal mining industry to provide a reliable and affordable fuel source to Interior Alaska, which provides heat and power to residents, businesses, the military bases, as well as the University of Alaska, Fairbanks," Alaska Miners Association Executive Director Deantha Crockett explained.

If congressional action had failed, Walker said Alaska would have battled the rule in court.

As of the writing of this report, H.J. Res. 38 was awaiting Trump’s signature. His advisors have voiced their recommendation for the President to sign the resolution into law.

“The administration is committed to reviving America’s coal mining communities, which have been hurting for too long,” they explained in a policy statement.

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