Energy & Environment

Green groups fight EPA rollback limiting states from blocking projects


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is facing another suit over its rule that limits states’ ability to block pipelines and other controversial projects that cross their waterways.

The Clean Water Act previously allowed states to halt projects that risk hurting their water quality, but that power was scaled back by the EPA in June, a move Administrator Andrew Wheeler said would “curb abuses of the Clean Water Act that have held our nation’s energy infrastructure projects hostage.”

The latest suit, however, argues the Trump administration is inappropriately denying states veto power over major projects that pose risks to their waterways.

“Stripping away the states’ ability to protect local waters and strangling the voices of impacted communities are the epitome of protecting polluters instead of protecting people,” Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), said in a release.

“For the first time, the Trump EPA’s rule denies those protections to the states and local communities, sacrificing the nation’s clean water to benefit polluting industries and their lobbyists.”

The SELC is filing the suit on behalf of six other environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, in the U.S. District Court in South Carolina. 

The Clean Water Act essentially gave states veto authority over projects by requiring them to gain state certification under Section 401 of the law.

It applies to a wide variety of projects that could range from power plants to wastewater treatment plants to industrial development.

But that portion of the law has been eyed by the Trump administration after two states run by Democrats have recently used the law to sideline major projects.

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 the rule affects more than just pipelines.

The SELC argues the Section 401 rollback would have stripped states’ power during the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project in Georgia. They said state governments were able to fight for protections for the drinking water in lower South Carolina and Georgia, set aside thousands of acres of protected preserves and wetlands, prohibit dredging in specific spots to protect bass and sea turtles, and require the system to maintain river oxygen levels.

The EPA said it would not comment on pending litigation.

The agency is already facing challenges to the rule from 20 states.

Tags Andrew Wheeler Clean Water Act Environmental Protection Agency EPA Natural Resources Defense Council SELC Southern Environmental Law Center States rights Water pollution

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