House Strikes Back Against Obama’s “War on Coal”

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Republicans pass bill that would restrict federal regulation.

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In their last act before the November elections, House Republicans cemented their opposition to what they have called a “War on Coal,” passing H.R. 3409 in a 223-175 vote that split mostly along party lines. The sprawling “Stop the War on Coal Act of 2012” is a multifaceted attempt to limit what the bill’s supporters view as undesirable federal regulation of the energy industry under the Obama administration.

Title I of the bill would place restrictions on the Secretary of the Interior’s ability to promulgate regulations under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. For example, one provision in the bill would prohibit Interior from adopting regulations before December 31, 2013 that would “reduce the amount of coal available for domestic consumption or for export.”

Other provisions would prohibit pre-2014 regulations that “adversely impact employment in [U.S. coal mines]” or that “designate any area as unsuitable for surface coal mining and reclamation operations.” Title II of the bill would prohibit—with few exceptions—federal agencies from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

An amendment drafted by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) was adopted that would require the Secretary of Transportation to publish a report on the estimated number of job losses, deaths and injuries, and other social costs that may result from the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) recent regulations on fuel emission standards for 2017 and later model year light-duty vehicles.

Similarly, Title III of the bill would require the President to create a “Committee for the Cumulative Analysis of Regulations that Impact Energy and Manufacturing in the United States” and would prohibit publication of new Clean Air Act rules until three years after the new Committee publishes a final report on the costs of environmental regulation.

Titles IV-VI would grant more regulatory flexibility to states, with Title IV attempting to amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act (42 U.S.C. 6941 et seq.) to allow states to maintain their own permit programs for disposal of coal combustion residuals. Title V likewise would limit the federal government’s ability to influence state water quality standards.

Title VI would impose severe restrictions on federal oversight of state implementation plans under the Clean Air Act. The bill would permit implementation of a federal plan only if an EPA administrator found that the state had failed to consider “the costs of compliance, the time necessary for compliance, and the energy and nonair quality environmental impacts of compliance.”

The White House released an official statement last Wednesday threatening to veto the bill, but given the party-line vote it is unlikely to get past a Democratic-controlled Senate. However, Mitt Romney has targeted what he characterizes as Barack Obama’s War on Coal in new television ads, suggesting that he may support H.R. 3409 if elected.

The bill’s passage comes on the heels of a report published by the Republican-controlled House Natural Resources Committee, which details what an accompanying press release calls the Obama administration’s “rushed and unorthodox rulemaking process” and “continual efforts to obstruct Congressional oversight.”

It appears that the direction of U.S. energy and environmental regulation may depend ultimately on the results of this November’s election.