H.R. 1644 would prohibit the Department of the Interior (DOI) from issuing any rule regarding prohibited surface mining areas near streams until a year after the National Academy of Science (NAS) has submitted an evaluative report of the current rule to Congress. It gives two years for NAS to submit the report, meaning DOI would be prevented from issuing further rules for up to three years. The bill would also expand transparency requirements on all scientific products and raw data used by DOI to develop any rule regarding surface mining regulation. It passed the House Tuesday with partisan Republican support. The Democratic Whip urged Democrats to vote no, and the White House has issued a veto threat should the bill pass in both chambers.
The Stream Buffer Zone (SBZ) rule, which prohibits surface mining activities within 100 feet of certain streams without special permission, has been in effect since 1983. On July 27, 2015, DOI proposed a revision of SBZ called the Stream Protection Rule. This would increase the number of streams regulated and, according to bill sponsor Rep. Alex Mooney (R-WV2), “shut down all surface mining and a significant section of underground mining in the Appalachian region.” Mooney said the bill is intended to prevent the loss in jobs and increase in energy prices that would result from increased regulation.
According to the White House response and the Democratic Whip, the current SBZ regulations are outdated. They argue that the bill would “result in deterioration of water quality for thousands of stream miles, and create sustained regulatory uncertainty, as well as public health impacts for downstream communities.”
Three Democratic amendments were proposed but failed in a vote before the bill was passed in the House. They were:
To bypass the waiting period for any stream buffer rule if the rule would protect clean drinking water.
To allow abandoned mine reclamation funding to be used to revitalize communities that have been adversely affected by mining.
To postpone the delay of the stream buffer rule if it would contribute to the development of negative chronic or long-term health conditions.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 12, 2016.
Supporting Transparent Regulatory and Environmental Actions in Mining Act or the STREAM Act
(Sec. 2) This bill amends the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to direct the Department of the Interior to make publicly available online and in the Federal Register, 90 days before publication, any draft, proposed, supplemental, final, or emergency rule, or any environmental analysis, economic assessment, policy, or guidance, and each scientific product upon which Interior has relied in developing the rule, the analysis, or the assessment.
A scientific product is any product that:
employs the scientific method for inventorying, monitoring, experimenting, studying, researching, or modeling purposes; is relied upon by Interior in developing any rule, environmental analysis, economic assessment, policy, or guidance; and is not protected under copyright laws. For scientific products receiving federal funds Interior must also make publicly available the raw data used for them (any computational process or quantitative or qualitative data not protected by copyright or containing personally identifiable information, sensitive intellectual property, trade secrets, or business-sensitive information).
If Interior fails to make publicly available any scientific product for longer than six months, it must withdraw the rule, environmental analysis, or economic assessment policy or guidance. This requirement shall not apply if a delay in the publication of a rule will pose an imminent and severe threat to human life.
(Sec. 3) Interior shall arrange with the National Academy of Sciences for its Board on Earth Sciences and Resources to conduct a detailed, comprehensive study of the effectiveness of the "Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Operations Permanent Regulatory Program; Stream Buffer Zones and Fish, Wildlife, and Related Environmental Values" Final Rule in protecting perennial and intermittent streams through the use of stream buffer zones. The study shall include suggestions and recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of the rule if it finds regulatory inefficiencies.
Appropriations for the study are authorized for FY2016-FY2017.
Until one year after publication of the Board's report to Congress, Interior may not issue any proposed or final regulations under the Act that relate either to stream buffer zones or to stream protection.
(Sec. 4) The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 is further amended to declare that nothing in it authorizes Interior to take any action that duplicates, implements, interprets, enforces, or determines compliance with specified mining, environmental, or fish and wildlife law.