Bill would ban EPA’s preemptive water permit vetoes

Reps. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said they’ll introduce legislation next week to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from preemptively vetoing applications to dump dredge or fill in waterways.

The sponsors said the bill would restore EPA’s authority as it was intended in the Clean Water Act.

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The Clean Water Act gives the Army Corps of Engineers the authority to approve permits to dump dredge or fill material in waterways, which is usually required for massive projects and mines, including the mountaintop removal process. The EPA can veto those permits, but Gibbs and Rahall said the agency has been improperly exercising its power before applications are even filed.

“Recent actions by U.S. EPA to overstep its intended authority under the law have resulted in disruptions to businesses and uncertainty for investors,” Gibbs said in a Thursday statement. “This legislation will clarify EPA’s role in the Clean Water Act section 404 permitting process to ensure that the agency does not disrupt the normal permitting process by denying permits before they are ever issued.”

Gibbs spokeswoman Lauren O’Toole said the bill will prohibit the EPA from considering whether to veto a permit until the Army Corps has completed its work and is ready to issue the permit.

In one recent high-profile case involving Section 404 permits, the EPA announced in February that it would start the veto process for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska to protect the native salmon population of nearby Bristol Bay. But the mine’s backers have not yet filed for a permit.

“EPA’s preemptive veto of permits is a threat to our economy because it deters future investment in projects that create jobs and promote local and regional economic development,” Rahall said in the statement. “This bill simply aims to ensure that the proper permitting practices can move forward, and that EPA's ideological zeal to expand its authority is checked.”

Gibbs and Rahall have also sponsored a bill to ban the EPA from vetoing 404 permits after the Army Corps has issued them. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed that measure in April.