Republicans warn of threat to natural gas from EPA rule

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to clarify which bodies of water it can regulate would dramatically extend the agency’s reach and hurt natural-gas companies that have to build pipelines, Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said Monday.

Shuster’s comments came during an Altoona, Pa., field hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which he leads as chairman. Altoona is in Shuster’s district.

“Unilaterally broadening the scope of the Clean Water Act and the federal government’s reach into our everyday lives will have adverse effects on the economy and jobs, increase the likelihood of costly litigation, and restrict the rights landowners and local governments enjoy regarding decision-making on their own lands,” he said in his opening statement for the hearing. “This is another example of a disturbing pattern of an imperial presidency that seeks to circumvent Congress.”

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Republican lawmakers and business groups have blasted the proposal put forth this month by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act. They say the rule would broaden the agency’s authority by allowing it to regulate land that is dry most of the time but occasionally carries water.

“The administration is utilizing the wetlands permitting process under the Clean Water Act to throw obstacles in the way of developing and transporting to market, through gathering lines, natural gas produced in the Marcellus Shale region,” Shuster said. “It is the responsibility of Congress, and not the administration, to define the scope of jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said that the proposal would not bring the agency’s authority to any land or water it has not regulated previously.

Witnesses at the Monday hearing spoke about the current difficulties in obtaining federal Clean Water Act permits and the dangers of the EPA’s new proposal.

David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the Baltimore office of the Army Corps — which has jurisdiction over about half of Pennsylvania — makes it extremely difficult to get permits to build pipelines. 

The process is “unnecessary, duplicative and does not provide meaningful environmental benefit,” he said. “Yet the Army Corps process imposes additional administrative burden, adds additional cost and significant delays that could be eliminated.”

Warren Peter, president of Warren Peter Construction, said the EPA’s proposal would exacerbate homebuilders’ problems with Clean Water Act permits.

“There is no certainty under this proposal, just an expansion of federal authority,” he said. “These changes will not improve water quality, as the rule improperly encompasses water that is already regulated under state authority.”