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 BarrassoDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants Overnight Energy: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Senators highlight threat from invasive species 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 InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' MORE (Okla.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoDems slam EPA plan for fighting drinking water contaminants GOP senator: Border deal is 'a very good compromise' Push to include contractor back pay in funding deal hits GOP roadblock MORE (W.Va.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziWill Senate GOP try to pass a budget this year? Presumptive benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans are a major win If single payer were really a bargain, supporters like Rep. John Yarmuth would be upfront about its cost MORE (Wyo.), and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesMontana governor visiting Iowa amid talk of possible 2020 bid Will Senate GOP try to pass a budget this year? Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal 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.