It’s official. Congress has rolled back two Obama-era rules that curbed pollution and corruption.

A third is on tap for next week.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) departs the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) departs the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Friday morning, U.S. senators took some time out of their day to vote on a rule that increased transparency requirements for oil and gas companies operating overseas.

They voted to overturn the rule.

It was the second time this week the Senate, following on the heels of the U.S. House of Representatives, voted in favor of fossil fuel industries.

The Senate voted Thursday to roll back the Stream Protection Rule, which, as the name suggests, protects streams from mountaintop removal coal mining operations, which habitually dump the debris from mountaintop removal into the fresh water streams below. The practice has been tied to water contamination and virtually destroys the downhill ecosystem.

The vote to repeal was divided mostly down partisan lines, with four Democratic senators from coal-producing states voting for repeal and one Republican senator (Susan Collins from Maine) voting against.


The irony of the Stream Protection Rule — which was the only update to surface mining regulations since the 1980s — is that the very lawmakers who oppose it, Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) and Claire McCaskill (MO), as well as Republicans like Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), represent the people whose access to clean water is being jeopardized. The 6,000 miles of streams that are expected to be destroyed aren’t in the districts of clean water champions. They are in the districts of coal company champions — lawmakers who collectively received hundreds of millions of dollars from the coal industry last year alone.

Friday’s vote is slightly wonkier, but no less divisive. The Senate voted to repeal the Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers rule — a rule that requires U.S.-traded companies to disclose what they pay to foreign governments and is intended to reduce corruption. The repeal passed 52–48, with every Republican senator voting to repeal and every Democratic senator voting against.

Among Sen. Mike Crapo’s (R-ID) arguments against the rule was that it would dissuade international companies from being traded on the U.S. stock exchanges. “I have repeatedly stressed the need for the U.S. financial system and markets to remain the preferred destination for investors throughout the world, and this rule harms this status,” he said.

But Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) called the resolution to repeal the rule the “Kleptocrat Relief Act,” and emphasized that it had been developed with support from both parties. “My Republican colleagues today are trying to repeal a critical bipartisan rule initiated by Senator Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, and Senator Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland. It is a critical bipartisan rule to prevent corruption.”

The House already passed both of these resolutions — using the rare-until-this-year Congressional Review Act to claw back regulations developed under the Obama administration. President Donald Trump is expected to sign both resolutions next week.


And there is more to come. The House voted Friday to kill a rule that stops natural gas waste on public lands. The Senate will likely follow suit next week, killing a rule that prevents companies from wasting $300 million worth of taxpayer-owned natural gas each year.