WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Thursday reversed an Obama-era rule aimed at blocking coal-mining operations from dumping waste into nearby waterways, while House Republicans passed two bills that would nullify regulations affecting federal funding for Planned Parenthood and hunting activities on national wildlife refuges in Alaska.
The push to overturn rules adopted in the final months of former President Barack Obama’s administration - Trump has wiped two of them off the books this week, and is poised to do the same to several more in the months ahead - highlights the extent to which Republicans are determined to deliver for some of the key constituencies that backed their electoral victory in November.
Sitting in the Roosevelt Room, with House Republicans on his left and West Virginia coal miners sporting hard hats on his right, the president said signing the bill would “eliminate another terrible job-killing rule saving many thousands of American jobs, especially in the mines, which I’ve been promising you.
“The miners are a big deal; I’ve had support from some of these folks right from the very beginning and I won’t forget it,” he added, referring to his presidential campaign. “We went to West Virginia and we had 17, 18,000 people and they couldn’t get into that big arena.”
Mining companies and antiabortion rights groups hailed Republicans’ swift action, saying the changes would generate jobs and allow state officials to adopt policies more in line with their own ideological outlook. But Democrats and other proponents of the rules argued that by stripping the federal protections enacted under Obama, Washington’s new political class was simply imposing its views on Americans in place of the previous one.
Lawmakers are using the 1996 Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows them to reverse any regulations by a majority vote within 60 days of enactment - if they can get the president’s backing. House Republicans have introduced 39 such measures and passed 13 of them; two of them have become law and a third is awaiting Trump’s signature.
Surface-mining firms had fought against the stream buffer rule, which the Interior Department estimated would have safeguarded 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, on the grounds that it was too costly. In a written statement, Murray Energy President and CEO Robert Murray, who had sued to block the rule, praised Trump for overturning what he called “the single greatest threat to the jobs and family livelihoods of our employees that I have seen in my sixty (60) years of coal mining experience.”
But Ron Short, a resident of Duffield, Virginia, who works with the group Appalachian Voices, said eliminating the regulation would do nothing to bring coal jobs back to the area where he lives.
“For all my life, the coal economy has ruled this region and its people,” Short said. “Now we are facing the demise of the coal industry, and we must save the valuable natural resources that we have left if we are ever to develop cultural tourism and ecotourism as important parts of a new economy that works for everyone.”
Environmental groups were equally outraged about a resolution that passed the House on Thursday 225 to 193, which would nullify a rule the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized in August that barred Alaska’s Board of Game from using certain predator control tactics on national wildlife refuges. Those practices include killing mother bears and cubs as well as denning wolves and pups, along with trapping, baiting and aerial shooting.
“Is running roughshod over public lands and targeting mother bears and wolves and their young on lands specifically set aside as wildlife refuges really a priority for legislators given the many challenges facing our country?” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.
But Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, the bill’s sponsor, said on the House floor Thursday that the previous administration had been “governing by interest groups” and was more concerned about animal welfare advocates than Alaska residents.
“I’m speaking for the people of my state, not the people of Virginia,” he said, after Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., defended the rule.
A few minutes later, the two parties sparred over a resolution nullifying a Health and Human Services rule that instructed states they could not withhold federal family-planning funds from providers if they were qualified to provide care. The measure would allow states to divert federal money from Planned Parenthood - which serves more than a third of the roughly 4 million Americans who receive benefits through the Title X program - to community health clinics.
Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., said that she is not opposed to poor women getting federal aid for family planning services, “But why is it necessary for those services to be provided at the nation’s largest abortion provider?
“There’s a reason people call this rule President Obama’s parting gift to Planned Parenthood,” she said.
But Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the resolution, which passed 230 to 188, would make it harder for low-income Americans to get medical care, even though Planned Parenthood doesn’t use any federal funds to perform abortions.
“What my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are saying is, ‘We just want to make sure that Planned Parenthood doesn’t get a dime.’ ”