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Trump officials push states to take power over more waterways

Trump officials push states to take power over more waterways

The Trump administration is encouraging states and tribes to take over responsibility for environmental permitting in some water bodies that have traditionally been under federal power.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a memo last week that seeks to clarify when the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can grant states permitting power under the Clean Water Act.

The agencies, which jointly enforce the Clean Water Act, are allowed to give states authority over waterways like streams and wetlands for pollution permitting, subject to continued federal oversight. States cannot oversee permitting for major waterways like rivers and ports.

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Officials said the memo is part of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE’s efforts to improve infrastructure development. The Clean Water Act provision at issue, Section 404, requires permits for projects that would dredge or fill water bodies, like building bridges and levees.

“This action supports this administration’s dedication to infrastructure by providing states and tribes the clarity they need to better balance their environmental protection mission with their economic development goals,” Ryan Fisher, the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, told reporters Tuesday.

Fisher said the memo “not only adheres to the language of the statute and the intent of Congress when enacting [the Clean Water Act], but it is also in the overall best interest of the Army and the regulated public.”

States have been allowed to assume the permitting responsibility since the law was enacted in 1972, but only New Jersey and Michigan have done so. The new memo is meant to encourage more states to apply.

The EPA is responsible for screening states’ applications and for ensuring that they adhere to federal standards.

Alex Herrgott, deputy director for infrastructure at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said even with federal oversight, states can often do a better job overseeing permitting.

“This administrative change is harmonizing our coordination with states and transferring a traditional federal authority to states that are now capable and willing to accept it,” he said.

“There are no compromises to existing environmental protections. This is pure process redesign to shorten times to meet the president’s goal of getting all projects down to two years.”

Florida passed a law recently directing state officials to seek to take over Clean Water Act permitting from the federal government. In all, about 15 states have brought up the issue with the Trump administration, Herrgott said.