Energy & Environment

Tribes, green groups sue over Trump rollback of water rights

UPI Photo

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being sued for the second time in a week over a rule that limits states’ ability to fight big projects such as pipelines, with tribes and environmental groups who fear damage to nearby waters taking the latest action in court.

The new suit, filed Tuesday on behalf of three different tribal groups and the Sierra Club, argues states and tribes have a right to place conditions on federal projects that could degrade waters within their borders or to reject them altogether.

“Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe works incredibly hard to protect its tribal waters, adopting protective water quality standards over a decade ago,” Anthony Sampson, chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in Nevada, said in a release. “These changes that cut into the tribe’s ability to protect its waters and fish harm us all.”

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 legislation 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 recently used it 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.

Pipelines have also been particularly controversial within tribal areas. Protesters have fought both the Dakota Access Pipeline, which crosses tribal lands in North Dakota, and the Keystone XL pipeline, which was challenged by tribes in Montana and South Dakota. 

“Since Trump’s EPA is taking away states’ and Tribes’ ability to protect their clean water, we’re going to court to take it back,” Sierra Club senior attorney Nathan Matthews said in a statement on Tuesday.

Another set of environmental groups sued over the same rule Thursday, while 20 states challenged it in July. 

Tags Andrew Wheeler dakota access pipelines DAPL Keystone XL pipeline Tribes Water

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