EPA proposes rolling back states' authority over pipeline projects

EPA proposes rolling back states' authority over pipeline projects
© Getty Images

Democrats, environmentalists and state officials have lambasted a new proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would limit states’ ability to stall the construction of pipelines.

The regulation targets a portion of the Clean Water Act known as Section 401, which states have used to block controversial pipeline projects, arguing they pose a risk of contaminating drinking water.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Trump administration proposal would cement guidance issued in June that critics say seeks to limit states’ influence over controversial pipeline projects.

“Apparently the Trump administration only likes states’ rights when it can use them as an excuse to allow polluters to destroy streams and pave over wetlands, not when states and tribes want to actually protect their waterways from pipelines or other harmful projects,” Madeleine Foote, deputy director of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

The EPA said the aim of the proposal is to comply with an April executive order from President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP congressman slams Trump over report that U.S. bombed former anti-ISIS coalition headquarters US to restore 'targeted assistance' to Central American countries after migration deal Trump says lawmakers should censure Schiff MORE directing the agency to accelerate and promote the construction of pipelines and other important energy infrastructure.

“Our proposal is intended to help ensure that states adhere to the statutory language and intent of [the] Clean Water Act. When implemented, this proposal will streamline the process for constructing new energy infrastructure projects that are good for American families, American workers, and the American economy,” EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Dems subpoena Perry in impeachment inquiry | EPA to overhaul rules on lead contamination tests | Commerce staff wrote statement rebuking weather service for contradicting Trump Hundreds of former EPA officials call for House probe, say agency's focus on California is politicized EPA to overhaul rule on testing for lead contamination MORE said in a statement.

The Clean Water Act essentially gives states veto power over large projects that cut through their rivers and streams, giving them a year to weigh permits and determine how projects would impact their water quality.

Democratic-held states are already vowing to take legal action if the rule is finalized.

“We will not be deterred by the Trump administration from exercising our state’s full authority to protect Washingtonians’ right to clean water. The law is absolutely clear — states have both the right and the responsibility under the Clean Water Act to preserve our environment and protect public health. The White House’s relentless attacks cannot change that," Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeOvernight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate CNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate MORE (D) and Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a joint statement. 

“If the EPA finalizes this unlawful proposal, we’ll have no choice but to explore all legal options to defend Washington’s authority to protect our natural resources,” they said.

The EPA’s proposal has divided lawmakers along party lines.

Sen. Tim Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, argued that the proposed rule "defies" the intent of Congress and "would render states virtually powerless" at protecting their water resources and drinking water.

But Republicans argued the proposal would help put an end to what many see as an abuse of the law.

“It is encouraging to see the EPA moving forward with this proposal according to President Trump’s timeline,” Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerLawmakers toast Greta Van Susteren's new show Maryland manufacturers are stronger with the Export-Import Bank White House officials stand by Syria withdrawal, sanctions delay amid bipartisan pushback MORE (R-N.D.) said in a statement. “We cannot let states hijack energy infrastructure without legitimate cause and prevent the United States from continuing its energy revolution."

States have recently sidelined two large projects using the certification process through the Clean Water Act, actions that contradict the energy dominance strategy promoted by the Trump administration.

New York denied a certification for the Constitution Pipeline, a 124-mile natural gas pipeline that would have run from Pennsylvania to New York, crossing rivers more than 200 times. Washington state also denied certification for the Millennium Coal Terminal, a shipping port for large stocks of coal.

But even states with more conservative leadership have spoken out for maintaining states rights under the law.

“We urge you to direct federal agencies to reject any changes to agency rules, guidance, or policy that may diminish, impair, or subordinate states’ well-established sovereign and statutory authorities to protect water quality within their boundaries,” the Western Governors’ Association wrote in a January letter when the White House was still weighing an executive order.

The proposal was given high marks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some energy industry groups.

“While the statute recognizes the distinctive roles of the federal and state governments in the environmental review process, the balance between those roles has recently been disrupted and some states have viewed Section 401 as a means of determining which interstate pipeline projects are in the public interest and which are not,” Don Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said in a statement.