State governments will find it more difficult to put a halt to pipeline projects affecting their waterways as a result of a new rule just announced by the Environmental Protection Agency.
That rule, for months in the formulation stage, alters what is known as Section 401 of the landmark Clean Water Act. That section has long allowed the states to challenge some pipeline construction.
In announcing the new rule, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the EPA, described what he called previous “abuses of the Clean Water Act that have held our nation’s energy infrastructure projects hostage.”
The new rule, continued Wheeler, establishes “clear guidelines that finally give these projects a path forward.”
One of the provisions of the Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972, allowed states to essentially block large pipeline projects cutting through rivers and streams within a state’s borders.
Such projects could be held up through a number of means, including simply delaying the issuance of permits, until environmental impact studies could be completed.
The oil industry and builders have long complained that such procedures have been abused, extending the permitting process by years and substantially adding to a project’s cost.
But environmentalists have contended that section 401 provided the states with one of the only tools available to either slow down or stop altogether a project that may be harmful to lakes and waterways.
In essence the new rule speeds up timelines under the 401 process. It will also waive the need for a 401 certification if a given state has not acted on a project application within 12 months.
In an essay published by the Washington-based Heritage Society, senior research fellow Daren Bakst said the new EPA rule removes “inappropriate state-imposed obstacles to projects that could help the economy during this challenging time.”
Joan Walker, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club, which is based in Oakland, California, criticized the rule change. In a statement, Walker said: “The erosion of our fundamental clear water protections drastically limits states’ ability to protect their water at a time when access to clean water is more important than ever.”
Plans have already been announced to challenge the new EPA rule in federal court.
The new rule could also be subject to repeal under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to override new federal regulations.
By Garry Boulard
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