One of the themes emerging from the new Trump administration is a focus on overturning onerous regulations currently smothering American industries. It’s a laudable goal, since government rules bear so heavily on middle-class job creation.
On Feb. 24, the president signed an executive order tasking officials with peeling back excess regulation. The president still faces a fairly big problem, however, since behind each regulatory door he opens, there are two more doors.
“Essentially, the Obama administration spent its second term cooking up a wide array of environmental measures that were both ideologically conceived and bureaucratically cumbersome.”
Essentially, the Obama administration spent its second term cooking up a wide array of environmental measures that were both ideologically conceived and bureaucratically cumbersome. And nowhere was such red tape stretched more aggressively than in the quest to keep coal and minerals in the ground.
Already, President Trump has followed through on some of his campaign pledges. For example, he signed a congressional resolution overturning the Obama-era “stream rule.” This massive rule simply duplicated existing measures to monitor coal mining and land reclamation. Thus, canceling the rule will not meaningfully impact environmental standards already in place. But it will lift the hefty costs intended to punish mining firms simply for extracting a carbon-based source of energy.
That’s merely step one for the Trump administration, though. There’s more to do.
First off, there’s the leasing moratorium imposed on coal reserves on federal lands. Even though federal coal accounts for 42 percent of total U.S. coal production — while being responsible for 40 percent of total coal-generated electricity in 2014 — the Interior Department decided last year to shut down new coal leases for three years.
This smacks of political payoffs to activists since taxpayers receive 39 cents from every dollar earned from federal lease sales while the net global “carbon contribution” from federal coal is negligible. The moratorium solved a problem no one had.
The good news is that this moratorium can be lifted by the new Interior Department secretary as easily as it was imposed by his predecessor. Thus, after Ryan Zinke is confirmed for his post at the Interior Department, he could move quickly to end the moratorium.
Also in the administration’s purview is the Obama administration’s “Clean Power Plan” (CPP), the carbon reduction rule currently tied up in the D.C. Circuit Court. In essence, the CPP represents the zenith of regulatory ambition — a total transformation of the nation’s energy grid, engineered by an environmental agency hoping to impose the very cap-and-trade regime that Congress repeatedly rejected.
The CPP is still breathing, but barely; it isn’t legally binding until the D.C. Circuit decides its dubious legality. But Enviromental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has reiterated his intention to scrap the plan — an encouraging prospect for the millions of Americans living in states that depend heavily on electricity from reliable and affordable coal-based power.
And finally, there’s the blundering excess of the financial assurance requirement that Obama’s EPA hoped to impose on hard-rock mining companies. It is already standard practice for mining firms in the United States to post financial assurances for the reclamation, closure, and post-closure costs of any mining site. But the EPA simply decided to duplicate these requirements, even though the process is already being managed successfully by state regulators as well as by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
Why would the EPA want to increase the financial burden on mining companies by requiring them to lay out additional capital for the same costs they’ve already covered? Because green activists have waged an ideological campaign opposed to mining, and the EPA simply acquiesced to their agenda. Ignored by these same environmentalists is their reliance on the very metals and minerals they would keep in the ground.
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Smartphones, for example, contain more than 40 metals and minerals extracted from state-of-the-art mining operations. And solar panels and wind turbines require copious amounts of bauxite, boron, cadmium, copper, cobalt, iron, molybdenum, etc. The new financial assurance requirement is another example of an environmental agenda lacking any real-world practicality.
Mining matters greatly to the future security of the United States, however. And it’s not just the reliable, affordable energy that coal provides. Or the critical minerals needed for 21st century technologies. There’s also the thousands upon thousands of good-paying, middle-class jobs on the line, and the economic impacts for industry and manufacturing.
This is why the Trump administration must continue to root out regulations that were conceived in an ideological vacuum — with little to justify their massive impact. Dismantling an anti-coal regulatory edifice, and ending the blanket hostility to mining, will do much to secure affordable energy and a stronger industrial base for America.
Luke Popovich is vice president for external communications at the National Mining Association (NMA).