Energy & Environment

EPA proposes giving states more power to block projects, reversing Trump

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan answers questions during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing to discuss the President’s FY 2023 budget for the EPA on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.
Greg Nash
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan answers questions during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing to discuss the President’s FY 2023 budget for the EPA on Wednesday, April 6, 2022.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  is proposing to give states and tribes more power to block infrastructure projects like pipelines that run through their waters, reversing a Trump-era move.

The EPA issued a proposed rule on Thursday that would give states more discretion under the Clean Water Act to veto projects that may have impacts on their waters.

The Trump administration had imposed a strict one-year limit for a state or tribal government to approve or block a project. The Biden administration is proposing a system under which states and tribes can work with federal agencies to establish a “reasonable period of time” to consider such projects.

A fact sheet from the Biden administration said the proposed change would allow states and tribes to  “holistically evaluate the water quality impacts” of a project. 

Under the proposal, a state or tribal government would meet with federal officials to reach a deal on a timeframe for considering the project. If the two sides can’t agree on a timeframe, that state would have 60 days to decide whether to approve or block a project.

The rule would also allow the state or tribal government to automatically extend that deadline by issuing a notice saying it needs more time to consider the project.

In its new rule, the Biden administration also expanded the scope of what could be considered in blocking a project. In its new rule, it said it would allow states to consider whether the “activity as a whole” could negatively impact state or tribal waters. It said that this differed from the Trump administration’s approach, which only considered the impacts of a project’s potential discharges.

The Trump administration’s rule came after two high profile instances where blue states used their powers to block fossil fuel projects: New York blocked a proposed natural gas pipeline, while Washington state blocked a coal shipping port. 

It argued at the time that states were abusing the Clean Water Act to make decisions that were not adequately connected to water quality. 

However, the Biden administration says that its approach adequately balances states’ rights with supporting infrastructure. 

“For 50 years, the Clean Water Act has protected water resources that are essential to thriving communities, vibrant ecosystems, and sustainable economic growth,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

“EPA’s proposed rule builds on this foundation by empowering states, territories, and Tribes to use Congressionally granted authority to protect precious water resources while supporting much-needed infrastructure projects that create jobs and bolster our economy,” he added.

Updated at 4:13 p.m.

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