GOP senators ask EPA to block states that have 'hijacked' rule to stop fossil fuel production

GOP senators ask EPA to block states that have 'hijacked' rule to stop fossil fuel production
© Greg Nash

A group of Republican senators are highlighting concerns that a provision under a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water rule makes it too easy to block fossil fuel projects.

In a Thursday letter lead by Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoEPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former Rep. Harman says Russia is trying to exploit America; Mylan's Heather Bresch says US should make strategic reserve in medicines; Trump unveils leaders of 'Warp Speed' The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Moniz says U.S. needs energy jobs coalition and Manchin says Congress is pushing Wall Street solutions that don't work for Main Street; Burr to step aside MORE (Wyo.), the five Republicans asked EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to send new guidance regarding a statute in the Clean Water Act, which they fear has been used in the past to restrict the development of natural gas pipelines.

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“In the last few years, a troubling trend directed at fossil energy projects has arisen. A select number of states have hijacked Section 401 to delay or block the development of natural gas pipelines and a coal export terminal. While the focus of these abuses today is fossil energy, the approach could be used to target any type of project that is disfavored politically,” GOP Sens. Barrasso, James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper escalates war of words with Warren, Democratic senators | Senate panel plans to skip DHS, VA spending bills Esper escalates war of words with Warren, Democratic senators Pentagon official: FCC decision on 5G threatens GPS, national security MORE (Okla.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoTrump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - In reversal, Trump says he won't disband coronavirus task force McConnell under mounting GOP pressure to boost state aid MORE (W.Va.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziHouse GOP lawmakers urge Senate to confirm Vought The Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? Lawmakers trade insults over Trump budget cuts MORE (Wyo.), and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden seeks to tamp down controversy over remarks about black support MORE (Mont.) wrote in the letter.

Section 401 mandates that any industry that is applying for a federal permit to allow them to put discharges into a water system must also obtain a certification from the state in which the discharge is coming from to ensure they are complying with water quality standards. The rule can affect chemical plants, power plants or other fossil fuel drilling activities that could lead to pollution of a water source.

The lawmakers said the current statute is being used to “fight” fossil fuel projects rather than protect water quality. They did not offer examples of projects that might have been unfairly struck down under the provision.

“Recent obstruction of energy infrastructure projects has directly threatened national security by forcing reliance on foreign energy and increased air emissions. This obstruction has hurt American workers, states, and tribes,” the letter read.

An EPA spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the lawmakers' letter and is currently reviewing options on how best to provide more nationwide consistency and regulatory certainty for permit applicants and stakeholders under the Clean Water Act.

In August, Barrasso introduced the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2018, which aimed to amend the way the water quality certifications were granted legislatively and change provisions under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. The same four Republican senators are co-sponsors of the bill.