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NC’s coal mines are defunct, but we should still care about the Stream Protection Rule

It’s not Obama’s fault. Cheap natural gas and renewables have contributed to coal’s decline.

The billboards along the West Virginia interstates advertise many types of coming attractions: the Lion’s Den adult bookstore, Wendy’s hamburgers, the Beckley Travel Plaza. Some also signal the coal industry’s discontent with regulation: “Obama’s No Job Zone,”  “Obama’s Job Killing EPA.”

The coal industry lost 50,000 jobs in five years, but federal regulations are not the only driver of that decrease (and according to Appalachian Voices’ analysis of federal data, there were more jobs in 2011 and 2012 than under Bush the 43rd). Cheap natural gas and renewable energy have steered the economy away from coal.

Facts aside, the U.S. House and Senate both voted to overturn the 34-year-old Stream Protection Rule, which was strengthened by Obama. The Sierra Club has an excellent primer on the rule, what’s at stake and why conservatives want to eliminate it. Spoiler alert: It has to do with coal company profits.

Essentially, the rule is designed to keep coal residue and heavy metals out of the waterways. The rule also requires that damaged streams be restored. The bill now goes to President Trump, who campaigned on “yuge” — the biggest, the most fantastic — promises to revive the coal industry.

Now, North Carolina no longer has active coal mines. (The state’s worst mining disaster, which occurred on May 27, 1925, in Coal Glen, Chatham County, killed 53 men working for the Carolina Coal Company.) But Duke Energy, which supplies most of North Carolina with electricity, still uses coal at some of its plants. And that coal comes from Central Appalachia — West Virginia and Kentucky — and the Illinois Basin. Those areas have streams and waterways that the rule protected. So for those of us still living on the grid, when we turn on the lights, we contribute to the coal industry — not just the jobs but the environmental devastation that accompanies it.

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