Energy & Environment

Court nixes Trump rule limiting state authority to block pipelines

A federal court on Thursday nixed a Trump-era rule that limited state and tribal authority to block projects that could impact their waters, including pipelines. 

California Federal Judge William Alsup vacated the rule and sent it back to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for further proceedings. 

The Clinton appointee’s move came after the agency asked the court to remand the issue back to the EPA amid litigation filed by states and environmental groups challenging the rule. However, the EPA did not ask for the rule to be vacated.

It had asked for it to be sent back because it has already said that it would “revise” the Trump rule.

The proceedings come in response to suits over the 2020 rule by states and environmental groups. 

California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) celebrated the news in a statement, arguing that it restored the state’s rights to protect its waters. 

“We’re pleased that the District Court agreed to vacate this unlawful Trump-era rule and restore California’s authority under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. State agencies rely on Section 401 to safeguard our precious resources by ensuring that federal projects meet the state’s robust water quality requirements,” Bonta said. 

The now-vacated rule had limited states’ authorities to block projects by giving them a strict one-year time limit to do so before the federal government could decide a state had waived its veto power. 

It also limited the scope of state-required approvals to only those that will impact water quality. It excluded other considerations such as air quality or “energy policy.” 

The news comes after high-profile blue-state project denials: New York’s denial of a natural gas pipeline and Washington state’s denial of a coal shipping port. 

The Trump administration argued at the time that it was seeking to “curb abuses of the Clean Water Act that have held our nation’s energy infrastructure projects hostage.”

But, the court’s new order signifies a return to the pre-Trump rules until the EPA completes a new rule, expected in Spring 2023. 

Alsup argued that the Trump rule needs to be tossed in the meantime. 

Alsup said that “significant doubt exists that EPA correctly promulgated the rule” adding that “the disruptive environmental effects should remand occur without vacatur … outweighs the disruptive economic consequences.”


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