EPA Proposes Clean Water Act Changes

Issues & Policies

Efforts to bring natural gas to southern New England have been significantly hampered by lawsuits and grassroots organizations opposed to fossil fuels.

Some of these actions are based on broad interpretations of the federal Clean Water Act. Similar efforts to stifle the interstate transportation of natural gas have occurred in other states as well. 

Now, the Trump administration wants to change a section of the Clean Water Act to strengthen federal authority in issuing permits for natural gas and other energy pipelines.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the change at the Council of Manufacturing Association’s Summer Leadership Conference in Charleston, S.C.

The change to Section 401 of the act could expedite approval of natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure, although opponents say it will weaken the ability of states and Indian tribes to protect their waters.

“Our proposal is intended to help ensure that states adhere to the statutory language and intent of the Clean Water Act,” Wheeler said.

“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.”

‘Win for Manufacturers

Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers supported the proposal.

“The EPA’s efforts to modernize regulation and deliver regulatory certainty have contributed to strong manufacturing growth in recent years,” Timmons said.

“The EPA’s efforts to modernize regulation and deliver regulatory certainty have contributed to strong manufacturing growth.”

NAM president and CEO Jay Timmons

“This proposal is a win for manufacturers that would build on that success by offering much-needed clarity to states and manufacturers alike.”

The change is designed to strengthen federal authority in issuing these permits and preventing states from overstepping their authority, Wheeler said.

Court Rulings

He cited New York state and its six-year battle with the Williams Co. over construction of the 125-mile Constitution Pipeline that would transport natural gas from Pennsylvania to New York.

Williams submitted a water permit for the project with New York state in 2013 but withdrew and resubmitted the application at the state’s request.

The change allows the federal government to override states’ decisions to deny permits in some instances.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation then denied Williams’ application in 2016 because, it said, the company did not submit sufficient information to determine if the project complied with state water-quality standards.

Williams appealed the state’s decision. An appeals court determined it lacked jurisdiction and upheld the state’s decision.

Williams took it to the Supreme Court, which declined to review the appeals court ruling.

Review Period Shortened

The proposed change limits on how long states and tribes can take to review proposed projects to a “reasonable period” of not more than one year.

It also allows the federal government to override states’ decisions to deny permits for projects in some instances.

Bradley Campbell, president of the Conservation Law Foundation, said the change will “hobble the most important tool that states have to protect significant waters, from prized trout streams to essential drinking water sources.”

EPA said it held formal consultations with state, local, and tribal entities, and other federal agencies in developing the proposed rule.

The EPA is scheduled to finalize the rule in May 2020.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Eric Brown (860.244.1926) | @CBIAericb


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