In all likelihood, there is going to be more coal ash in American rivers. This is not a good thing, though there is no mandate that it need provoke outrage.
The story of why there will be more ash is just boring enough that you can be guaranteed it is a textbook example of how government really works. In 1977, when looking at a country of burning rivers and towns built over waste dumps, the government passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which helped to create the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, then nested it peacefully under the Department of Interior where it was left to carry out the sleepy task of balancing industry and human health as they pertain to coal mining.
In 1983, the Office passed a rule that involved insuring that each coal operation was planned to provide buffer zone around rivers where they would not dump pollutants. It proved to be inadequate, perhaps due to its bluntness. In 2008, a substitute rule was proposed and shot down in the courts. Another rule was later drafted and passed under the Obama administration requiring anyone seeking to mine coal study and understand how their actions will affect all of the water in the area, including the things that depend upon it. The coal industry felt the rule went too far, which it may or may not have; environmentalists felt the rule did not go far enough, which it may or may not have, and heated debate persisted for years. Meanwhile, the government found just enough people in the middle to do the paperwork to get it together. It became an actual codified rule in June, 2016.
The above is a pretty generic example of Environmental Law in America up until now: a federal statute creates a government bureau that does a thing that helps fewer people get cancer and, unless it affects your financial livelihood, you don't have to give two sweet damns about it. It’s the type of world-saving that no one makes action movies about. It is how the system is supposed to work. It is as boring as flossing and almost as important, and it worked okay- up until about three weeks ago.
Three weeks ago Congress used the Congressional Review Act of 1996 (CRA), which allows them to kill rules passed in a certain time frame, to kill this one in its seventh month. It is dead and its legacy is 33 years of bureaucratic work pissed away by greed, ignorance, and/or some other such human attribute not fit to print.
The outcome of more pollution in rivers is certainly, and empirically, not good. Some would argue it is necessary. There are hints at how good or bad a regulation is going to be, but there are no agreed upon scoreboards.
What is certainly the case, however, is that an alphabet soup of acronyms and sad people filling out permits in cubicles in the background is way, way preferable to being led by a chicken with its head cut off. We are back to following an ineffective rule that could harm people because Congress didn’t like the new one, and there is no indication of whether or not we will see another in the next decade. And that’s the point of why I’m writing this. Withdrawal and delay is a damn lazy strategy and a very foolish way to govern. The CRA allowed Congress to get rid of this one little procedural statute, but it will not help them with dismantling much of the other parts of Obama’s environmental policy. I find no joy in writing that sentence because I don’t think that is going to deter the people who want a world without environmental regulation. All it means is that our government, as it has traditional existed at least, isn’t a very useful means to their end. This all leads one to worry about what kind of job they are going to do in running it. What kind of job are they going to do in protecting us from those unseen things that are so boring no one wants to think about them? Those things exist down the road, which is not where our leaders are looking.