WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a measure scrapping an Obama-era regulation that would prevent coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams.
The Senate’s 54-45 vote sends the resolution to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it. The vote came as the House considered another Obama administration rule on gun ownership.
Republicans and some Democrats say the stream protection rule could eliminate thousands of coal-related jobs and ignores dozens of federal, state and local regulations already in place.
The Interior Department said in announcing the rule in December that it would protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests, preventing coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby waters.
The vote was the first in a series of actions Republicans are expected to take in coming weeks to reverse years of what they call excessive regulation during President Barack Obama’s presidency. Rules on fracking, guns and federal contracting also are in the cross-hairs as the GOP moves to void a host of regulations finalized during Obama’s last months in office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the stream rule “an attack against coal miners and their families” and said it would have threatened coal jobs and caused major damage to communities in Kentucky and other coal-producing states.
“The legislation we passed today will help stop this disastrous rule and bring relief to coal miners and their families,” McConnell said.
Democrats called the vote an attack on clean water and a clear win for big coal-mining companies and other polluters.
The Senate vote came as the House took its first steps toward strengthening gun ownership under Trump.
At issue was an Obama rule extending background checks for disabled Social Security recipients mentally incapable of managing their own affairs.
Under the rule, the Social Security Administration would provide information to the gun-buying background check system on recipients with a mental disorder so severe they cannot work and need someone to handle their benefits. The rule, finalized in December, affects an estimated 75,000 beneficiaries.
Republican lawmakers criticized the regulation for reinforcing a negative stereotype that people with a mental disorder are dangerous.
“There are people who need help and seek help, but that is not a criteria for taking away one’s constitutional right” to own a gun, said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
After the 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Obama directed the Justice Department to provide guidance to agencies regarding information they are obligated to report to the background check system.
In Newtown, 20 children and six educators were shot to death when a gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. The gunman had earlier killed his mother inside their home, and he used a gun and ammunition that she had purchased.
Democrats said Republicans were doing the bidding of the National Rifle Association, which opposed the Social Security Administration’s rule. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said his constituents have a right not to be victims of gun violence.
“They have a right to protect their loved ones who may use a weapon against themselves or their family members,” McGovern said.
While gun rights groups opposed the regulation, some advocates for the disabled have also said it is discriminatory. The agency that advises the president and Congress on government policy, the National Council on Disability, said there is no connection between the inability to manage money and the ability to safely possess and use a firearm.
The Social Security Administration regulation also established a process for people to appeal having their names submitted to background check database. But attorneys general from a dozen states wrote to congressional leaders and said such appeals can take months or years to resolve. They said the regulation violates basic notions of due process by permitting an agency to revoke someone’s Second Amendment rights without a hearing.
Republicans are employing a rarely used tool to roll back some of the rules issued in the final months of Obama’s tenure. The Congressional Review Act provides a temporary window for a simple majority of both chambers to invalidate the rule. Trump would also have to sign the resolution of disapproval for the regulation to be deemed invalid. What’s more, the law prevents the executive branch from imposing substantially similar regulations in the future.
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