Clean Water Act Rolls Out New Limits for States

June 3, 2020

Clean Water Act now limits states' power to stop oil and gas pipelines

Under an EPA rule finalized Monday, states have less say in issuing Clean Water Act permits. 

Up until this change, Section 401 of the federal CWA provided states with the authority to ensure that federal agencies will not issue permits or licenses which violate water quality standards.

Last April, the EPA was ordered to accelerate and promote the construction of pipelines and other important infrastructure, according to NPR.

According to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the new rule will specify timelines for state review, requiring final action within one year of receiving an application. The rule limits the scope of environmental reviews that states must conduct before issuing permits for projects, including pipelines and hydropower plants, reported NPR. 

In recent years, states have used Section 401 to block a number of fossil fuels projects, according to The Washington Post. For instance, New York and New Jersey blocked permits for the Northeast Supply Enhancement Pipeline, which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) argued would have harmed water quality and threatened marine life.

Instead, states must now narrow their reviews to water quality issues.

If a state misses the one-year deadline to issue a permit, the requirements for certification under the Clean Water Act would be waived, according to the Hill.

"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 Wheeler.

The new rule applies only to future projects, added Wheeler.

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Cristina Tuser