US coal miners applaud Republican axing of stream protections

WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - The battered U.S. coal industry rejoiced after the Senate voted on Thursday to repeal a rule that limited companies from dumping mining waste in streams, saying the move could halt the sector's decline.

The Senate, approving a resolution passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, overturned the Stream Protection Rule as part of a broader move by Republicans to reverse what they see as overregulation by former President Barack Obama's administration on energy development.

The demise of the rule had been expected. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress, controlled by Republicans, to undo rules finalized at the end of a previous administration.

"This is one very, very important step to get coal back on its feet and stop the hemorrhaging of jobs that we've seen," said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

The coal industry hopes the move is the first step toward a recovery under President Donald Trump, who has vowed to clear away regulation to support more mining. Coal advocates are hoping his administration will overturn a moratorium the Obama administration placed on new coal leases on federal lands, and scrap regulations on carbon dioxide emissions.

The coal waste rule was intended to protect 6,000 miles (9,700 km) of streams and large areas of forests over the next two decades, the Interior Department said when it issued the rule in December. It argued the rule would protect drinking water without undermining the economy or energy supply.

The coal industry countered that the rule could have reduced the number of direct mining jobs by 30 percent and made 60 percent of its existing reservoirs uneconomic to produce.

Coal companies such as Arch Coal Inc and Peabody Energy Corp - two of the nation's biggest miners - experienced recent bankruptcies because of a surge in production of natural gas and new regulations curbing carbon dioxide emissions.

Stephanie Weiler, a spokeswoman at Peabody Energy said the company was "pleased" by the elimination of the rule and supported "any actions aimed at reining in unnecessary regulations that don't improve the environment yet harm the economic and jobs landscape."

Arch did not immediately comment.

Gary Broadbent, a spokesman for private company Murray Energy, said the rule was an attempt to "destroy our nation's underground coal mines" and put coal miners out of work.

Democratic Senator Edward Markey said the coal industry's request that Republicans kill the rule amounted to saying: "Please protect us from having to protect the public." (Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Peter Cooney)