Pruitt takes over authority for water protections policy

Pruitt takes over authority for water protections policy
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittRestoring the EPA: Lessons from the past OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA finalizes 'secret science' rule, limiting use of public health research | Trump administration finalizes rollback of migratory bird protections | Kerry raises hopes for focus on climate security at NSC EPA finalizes 'secret science' rule, limiting use of public health research MORE has signed a directive giving himself more authority to determine environmental regulations for projects near regional waterways, according to a memo released Wednesday.

The internal document obtained by the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) gives the EPA chief final decisionmaking authority over the protections of streams, ponds and wetlands. 

The one-page March 30 memo vests Pruitt the authority to make “final determinations of geographic jurisdiction,” under the Clean Water Act, also known as the Water of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

The new order heavily downplays the role of local EPA experts in the field who in the past have made the final recommendations — and often decisions — regarding necessary environmental protections in their region.

The change will allow Pruitt to play a lead role in evaluating whether a project near waterways or wetlands would have negative environmental effects, affecting various projects including coal refineries and power plants.
In order to continue, the projects must receive permits from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as approval from the EPA. 

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the policy change is meant to centralize the agency's decisionmaking. She maintained that local input will still be part of the process.

This memo explains that jurisdictional determinations that raise significant issues or technical difficulties should be handled in a consistent and uniform manner, particularly during the WOTUS rulemaking," Bowman said.

"Regions will absolutely be involved in the process and work closely with the Administrator’s office when doing the work to assess jurisdiction for very select, and often rare, cases." 

Bowman said it would be an “exceedingly rare occurrence” where Pruitt makes the final call, saying he would likely only do so if there were significant issues or technical difficulties in determining which regional jurisdiction should make the decision.

“EPA would then get to make the jurisdictional call for these special cases instead of the [Army Corp of Engineers]. This provision is almost never used — the Corps makes thousands of jurisdictional determinations each year, whereas EPA may make one or two special case determinations each year (and many years, EPA makes none),” Bowman explained.

But environmentalists say that the change gives undue authority to Pruitt under WOTUS and could lead to increased pollution in various waterways across the country if the administrator seeks to downplay environmental regulations.

This action subjects safeguards for clean water across the U.S. to filtration through one politician’s hands,” stated PEER’s New England director, Kyla Bennett, a former EPA employee. “Every corporation that wants a pass on Clean Water Act compliance is invited to privately meet with the most user-friendly EPA Administrator in history.”

In February, the EPA under Pruitt suspended the Obama-era WOTUS bill from implementation for two years, promising to rewrite it to “reduce confusion and provide certainty to America's farmers and ranchers.”

President TrumpDonald TrumpFBI says California extremist may have targeted Newsom House Democrat touts resolution to expel Marjorie Taylor Greene from Congress Facebook to dial back political content on platform MORE previously took aim at the rule during his presidential campaign, calling WOTUS “one of the worst examples of federal regulation.”