In May 2015 , the U.S. federal government’s Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Office introduced the Stream Protection Rule that addresses the balance of interests between clean water and the needs of the coal industry. The indication was that this was based on new scientific information about the damaging effects of coal dust in water systems. I have not reviewed the underlying science (and the science is not the focus of this article) but note that it was considered later in public comments. The intent of the rule was to limit effluents coming from runoff from coal mining.
The Delaware River watershed and the Delaware Bay region was only peripherally affected by the legislation compared to other parts of the country. As a result, the local environmental organizations that work with were only minimally involved in the legislative process. Some local people are concerned that coal runoff has adversely affected sturgeon that were once abundant in the Delaware River and bay. The federal rule making agency found no basis for that concern and did not consider the risk in this rulemaking process.
More than 18 months of public meetings, hearing and collection of public comments followed the introduction of this rule. As expected, there was both support and opposition. In general, the coal industry wants no additional regulation while environmentalists want rules to ensure clean water. 95,000 public comments on the rule were collected during this period. The federal rule making process moved forward as expected in the usual fashion by considering all of this massive public input. The discussion over extensive public comments are listed in the federal register and can be viewed at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/20/2016-29958/stream-protection-rule.
After about 18 months of public vetting, the Stream Protection Rule became law in December 2016 as a modest step in preserving the quality of our water system.
Today, February 1, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.J.Res.38 – “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Department of the Interior known as the Stream Protection Rule”. In a single vote, these elected officials set aside all the work that had balanced the interests of industry and the environment and simply bullied their forced agenda on the affected citizens.
I am saddened to witness yet another defeat for the democratic process and a step back for our Delaware water system.