WASHINGTON – The Biden administration will move on Thursday to restore authority to states and tribes to veto gas pipelines, coal terminals and other energy projects if they pollute local rivers and streams, overturning a Trump-era rule that limited that power.
For 50 years, the Clean Water Act has given states and tribes the ability to review federal permits for industrial facilities and block projects that could dump pollution into local waterways. Without their certification, the federal government cannot approve a project.
Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the agency is proposing a rule that “builds on this foundation by authorizing states, territories and tribes to use congressional authority to protect valuable water resources while maintaining much-needed infrastructure. create jobs and strengthen our economy. “
Water resources are “essential for thriving communities, vibrant ecosystems and sustainable economic growth,” Mr Regan said in a statement.
The Biden Administration’s Environmental Agenda
President Biden is pushing for stronger regulations, but faces a narrow path to achieving his goals in the fight against global warming.
Some states have used their authority under the Clean Water Act to stop or postpone fossil fuel projects. In 2017, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington refused to testify a federal water permit for a coal export facility at the Columbia, citing the risk of significant losses as well as impacts on air quality. In 2020, Andrew Cuomo, who was governor of New York City at the time, denied a permit for pipeline that would have shipped natural gas to his state of Pennsylvania, based on the project’s “inability to demonstrate” that it could meet water quality standards.
In 2020, the Trump administration implemented rule limit that review power and limit the time during which states and tribes could grant or deny permits. Trump officials have argued that Democratic states are essentially pursuing climate policy under the guise of a law intended for a different purpose. They said they wanted to curb abuses of the law that “hostage” fossil fuel projects.
Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers have accused the Trump administration of speeding up large-scale energy projects at the urging of the oil and gas industry.
“The rule has been in place since 1971 and the Trump administration has moved to undo it, essentially limiting the ability to challenge the environmental impacts of projects,” said Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University.
The proposed changes to the Biden administration will essentially restore the conditions that existed before the Trump presidency.
They are coming as Mr Biden calls on the oil and gas industry to boost production to alleviate high prices at the pump. Energy trading groups said they were concerned that the new regulation could block infrastructure they deem necessary to meet demand.
Mr Revesz said he did not believe the Biden administration’s actions would affect prices at the pump, as the Trump administration’s limits would remain in place until the Biden rule was finalized, most likely next year.
“Containing Trump’s rule will not make gas prices low, and removing Trump’s rule will not raise gas prices,” he said.
Republicans have criticized the Biden administration’s plans as adding unnecessary bureaucracy to allowing opponents of fossil fuels to create barriers for oil and gas projects.
“It shouldn’t take longer to get the permits and permits for a pipeline than to build one,” Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Gas Association, said in a statement Wednesday. She said companies are “concerned that the proposed rule will deviate from the intent Congress had in drafting the Clean Water Act and allow some states to delay and increase costs for vital energy infrastructure.”
Julia Anastasio, executive director of the Association of Clean Water Managers, which represents water permits managers in all 50 states, said the rejection of the coal terminal in Washington State and the New York gas pipeline does not add up to a larger trend.
Ms Anastasio said that while those cases had become the “posters” for supporters of the fossil fuel industry, “It’s really not a problem out there. States have done their job and done it well.”
She said adjustments could be needed to the Clean Water Supply Act, but that Trump-era changes have gone too far. The right to review projects that cross local waterways “is a clear authority that Congress has given to the states,” Ms. Anastasio said.
The proposed rule must undergo a 60-day period of public comment and review before it is finalized.