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 BarrassoOvernight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge 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 InhofeHouse rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran Is the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? MORE (Okla.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoThis week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure America is in desperate need of infrastructure investment: Senate highway bill a step in the right direction MORE (W.Va.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Liz Cheney and Rand Paul extend war of words The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Democrats set for Lone Star showdown MORE (Wyo.), and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesConservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks The 23 Republicans who opposed Trump-backed budget deal 5 takeaways from combative Democratic debate 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.