Congress canceled a set of coal mining regulations last week, just two months after they’d been passed. President Trump signed the repeal with support from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead.
The Stream Protection Rule created a buffer zone around waterways and placed stricter requirements on companies to monitor and reclaim mine sites. But Wyoming’s Congressional delegation and Department of Environmental Quality called the decision an overreach that should not apply to the arid conditions of the Western U.S.
Department Director Todd Parfitt sent testimony to Congress, arguing that the Office of Surface Mining, Regulation, and Enforcement crafted a one-size-fits-all rule that failed to account for the Wyoming’s successes in reclaiming lands affected by mining. WYDEQ spokesman Keith Guille said that federal regulators dropped the ball when they said they would collaborate with states.
"It just wasn’t done in a transparent way," Guille said. "And ultimately, when you look at the rule that was finalized, it just did not recognize the unique characteristics here in the West and Wyoming. It was really developed more towards the Appalachian area, and their unique characteristics."
But Ellen Pfister, a Montana rancher with roots in Wyoming, is disappointed with this repeal. She helped to get the first federal regulations on surface mining passed in Congress, and thinks that states have failed to prioritize protecting soil and water.
"If it wasn’t for the existence of a federal rule, reclamation in every state would be a total race to the bottom to see how little they could cost the coal companies," Pfister said. "I think most of these agencies really think that their mission is to facilitate mining."
Pfister says that in Appalachia and in the West coal companies have been too cavalier with water resources, and she plans to continue to advocate for updated regulations.