EPA Changes Rule To Limit States' Ability To Oppose Pipelines, Energy Projects

Jun 1, 2020

Federal environmental regulators finalized a rule Monday that reduces the time states have to approve federal permits for energy projects. 

The Environmental Protection Agency finalized changes to a portion of the Clean Water Act called Section 401.

For decades, it has given states and tribes the power to review new projects to make sure they don’t harm local waterways. Under the law, states also had the power to withhold approval and set special conditions. In West Virginia, for example, the rule allowed environmental regulators to revoke and then reissue a permit for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Section 401 has been used by some states, like New York, to prevent new pipelines from being built.

In a press release, the EPA said some states abused the law, using it to stall energy projects, and the new rule, which sets a one-year time limit for states to approve or reject projects, is returning the law to its original intention.

“EPA is returning the Clean Water Act certification process under Section 401 to its original purpose, which is to review potential impacts that discharges from federally permitted projects may have on water resources, not to indefinitely delay or block critically important infrastructure,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Under the adjusted rule, states are also now only able to consider water quality impacts, not a project's impacts on things like climate change.

Environmental groups opposed the rule change.

In a statement, Jon Devine, director of federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council said the rule was a mistake and infringes on states' rights.  

“Enforcing state and federal laws is essential to protecting critical lakes, streams, and wetlands from harmful pollutants and other threats,” he said. “But the Trump administration’s rule guts states' and tribes' authority to safeguard their waters, allowing it to ram through pipelines and other projects that can decimate vital water resources.”