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 BarrassoSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Advancing a bipartisan conservation legacy 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 InhofeBroad, bipartisan rebuke for proposal to pull troops from Africa Lawmakers push back at Pentagon's possible Africa drawdown Senators take oath for impeachment trial MORE (Okla.), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoDemocrat Richard Ojeda announces Senate bid after dropping out of presidential race Spending bill to address miners' health care, pensions Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation MORE (W.Va.), Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump MORE (Wyo.), and Steve DainesSteven (Steve) David DainesSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Lawmakers introduce bill to reform controversial surveillance authorities Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says 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.