A scuttled rule to protect waterways from coal mining pollution would have caused relatively few layoffs within the industry and created nearly as many new jobs, according to a government report.
President Donald Trump signed a measure on Thursday to cancel the Stream Protection Rule. The rule, passed under President Barack Obama , would have prohibited surface mining within 100 feet of streams and tightened requirements for conducting environmental studies and cleaning up mines.
Congressional Republicans repealed the Stream Protection Rule — as well as an energy industry anti-corruption regulation — using an obscure provision called the Congressional Review Act.
Flanked by lawmakers and miners on Thursday, Trump said the rollback "will eliminate another terrible job-killing rule, saving many thousands of American jobs, especially in the mines."
The Stream Protection Rule drew attacks from the mining industry, which said its true aim was to shut down mines. The National Mining Association produced a report that concluded coal-related employment could plummet by 281,000 positions.
But the Congressional Research Service found the rule would reduce coal-related employment by an average of 260 jobs a year. The cuts could range from as low as 41 positions one year, to as many as 590 another.
CRS also projected the rule would generate an average of 250 jobs a year. Some of the new jobs would be in high-skilled areas like engineering and biology. Others would require skills that current industry workers already possess, such as bulldozer operations.
The job losses and gains would come on top of the 15,000 positions CRS expects the coal industry to lose between 2020 and 2040 due to long-term trends in the sector . The industry employed 90,000 people in 2012.
Appalachia suffers other costs
The embattled Appalachian region would have suffered the brunt of other effects of the Stream Protection Rule.
On average, the cost of complying with the rule would add 40 cents per ton to coal extracted from Appalachian surface mines. Surface mines in two other major production regions would see new costs averaging 60 cents per ton.
That could be a concern for Appalachian miners because low-cost coal from Wyoming has already cut deeply into their share of the market, so they have a harder time absorbing new costs.
More than 90 percent of the 382 small mines CRS expected the rule to affect are located in Appalachia. The compliance cost would be below 5 percent of total revenues for three-quarters of those small Appalachian players. But nearly 11 percent would absorb costs greater than 10 percent of their sales.
The severance taxes states collected from mining companies, which totaled $1.1 billion in all states in 2012, would fall by $2.5 million per year once the rule was implemented, according to CRS. West Virginia and Kentucky would shoulder more than 80 percent of those losses.