NRDC Lawsuit Prompts EPA to Restore Mercury Protection Rule It Illegally Withdrew

The Environmental Protection Agency today, acting in response to a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, reinstated a rule that will protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year from dental offices across the nation.

The following is a statement by Margaret Hsieh, attorney on the Litigation team at NRDC:

“EPA is taking an important step towards safeguarding Americans from a dangerous neurotoxin.  The agency decided to reissue the rule, instead of defending in court the decision to withdraw it.  Protecting the public—and not responding to a lawsuit—should have been motivation enough for this sensible action.”

BACKGROUND:

EPA issued the Mercury Effluent Rule on December 15, 2016 and withdrew it after January 20, 2017 in response to a White House memo.

Mercury can disrupt brain function and harm the nervous system.  It is especially harmful to pregnant women, babies and young children, even at tiny levels of exposure.

For more information on the mercury rule, please see this blog by NRDC’s Mae Wu.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

Speaker Ryan Announces GOP’s First CRA Repeal—DOI’s Stream Protection Rule

Reps. David McKinley (R-WV), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Evan Jenkins (R-WV), Alex Mooney (R-WV), and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) joined Speaker Ryan as he signed the legislation.

Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) signed H.J. Res. 38, a joint resolution disapproving the Department of Interior’s stream protection rule under the Congressional Review Act. The House passed this CRA on Wednesday and the Senate followed suit on Thursday. Speaker Ryan released the following statement:

“This is the first repeal of President Obama’s policies that Congress is sending to President Trump’s desk. Fittingly, it will bring relief to Americans hurt by years of overreach and over-regulation. We are repealing the Department of Interior’s stream protection rule—a rule the Obama administration pushed through at the last minute that was designed to decimate coal country.

“This is the first in a series of repeal bills that will break the choke-hold of aggressive Obama-era regulations. This is so important because these bills, once signed into law by President Trump, will free up America’s entrepreneurs, create jobs, and get our economy growing again. Congress promised to stand up for American jobs, and today we fulfill that promise.”

The #GOP will be using the CRA extensively over the next month or so to pretty much gut any regulation/rule/act previously enacted to which they’ve taken a dislike.  That was the case with the Stream Protection Rule.  So, why are they using the CRA?  Because, if they use that process they can prevent any filibusters in the Senate and they have the absolute number of votes to do whatever they want without needing a single solitary Democratic vote.  And, now that they have a president with an (R) behind his name with enough working digits to use a pen, they can get him to sign off on what ever wet dream they can imagine.

  • HOUSE Vote HJRes38:  228-194 (4 Ds voted to overturn; 9 Rs voted against overturning it)
    AYE:  Amodei |  NAY:  Kihuen, Rosen, Titus
  • SENATE Vote HJRes38:  54-45 [D AYE votes: Donnelly (D-IN), Heitkamp (D-ND), McCaskill (D-MO)] AYE: Heller | NAY:  Cortez Masto

What is the Congressional Review Act (CRA)?

The CRA is a complex statute that involves varying time limits, carryover provisions for changes in sessions of Congress, procedures for expediting legislative consideration of the joint resolution, and some important limitations. 

Under the CRA, the effective dates of all “major” rules are delayed for 60 calendar days after they are submitted to Congress or after they are published in the Federal Register, whichever date is later. In contrast, the effective dates of “non-major” rules are determined by the Administrative Procedure Act, which generally requires that the effective dates for new rules be at least 30 calendar days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. The purpose of the delay in effective dates is to allow Congress to review the regulation before it goes into effect.  If Congress adopts a joint resolution of disapproval, it must then submit to the president for consideration. If the president vetoes the joint resolution, the regulation will become effective unless Congress can override the veto within 30 session days after receiving the president’s veto.

Okay, but why use the CRA process?  Well, because it expedites the process by sending it directly to the Senate calendar for a vote and by limiting debate and prohibiting procedural hurdles, like filibusters by the party in the minority, as well as motions, points of order, and amendments.  You can find a primer explaining the CRA process HERE.

So what is the Stream Protection Rule?

The Stream Protection Rule covers waterways near surface coal mining operations like mountaintop-removal mines. When the tops of mountains are blown up to get at the coal below, the resultant rubble is dumped into valleys, often leading to pollution of rivers and streams with dangerous heavy metals like selenium, mercury, and arsenic.  It says that coal mines must not damage the “hydrologic balance” outside their permit area, and established a 100-foot buffer around streams to preserve native species. The rule also called for restoration of streams that had been damaged.

And why is it that they wanted to get rid of it?

According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,  “It’s just one example of the former administration’s attack on coal communities like those in my home state of Kentucky.”  Rep. David McKinley described it this way, “Fortunately with President Trump, we now have a partner in the White House who understands how irresponsible and harmful these bureaucratic overreaches can be.”  Translated into English:  That nasty ole Stream Protection Rule reduces (our benefactor) coal company profits.  So, if you live near any of those polluted streams compliments of this repeal, you might want to have that game you just shot for your freezer tested before you put it in the oven and then on your family’s dinner table.