- The Washington Times - Friday, August 9, 2019

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Friday aimed at streamlining approval of oil and gas pipeline projects, moving to stop what the administration said is a habit of some states to exploit a section of the Clean Water Act to block energy proposals indefinitely.

When completed, EPA’s rule would establish a one-year deadline for states to deny permits on infrastructure projects.

“Our proposal is intended to help ensure that states adhere to the statutory language and intent of Clean Water Act,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “When implemented, this proposal will streamline process for constructing new energy infrastructure projects that are good for American families, American workers, and the American economy.”

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs completed its review of the proposed rule on Thursday. The action comes in response to an executive order that President Trump signed in April.

Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, states may deny permits if pipeline leaks could harm streams or lakes. Among the pipeline projects that have been blocked continually under Section 401 is the 125-mile natural gas Constitution Pipeline from Pennsylvania to New York state, which has been opposed by the administration of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project in 2014.

Washington state, under Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, has used Section 401 to stop a proposed coal export terminal.Thaddeus Lightfoot, a specialist in environmental law at Dorsey & Whitney, said the proposed rule would result in “sweeping changes in the process of state Section 401 certifications under the Clean Water Act.” He said it provides “needed clarity” from an industry perspective, and imposes “a federal agency ‘veto’ when the agency determines a state 401 certification does not comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act.”

A senior administration official said the new rule would prevent states from abusing the law.

“For too long, states and governors beholden to radical eco-left special interest groups have played politics in order to block natural gas infrastructure projects in their states,” the official said. “This destroys jobs, hurts the economy and harms Americans in those states who would be impacted the most by rising energy costs and electrical grid problems.”

The official said “proper interpretation of this rule will allow the Trump administration to move forward quickly with important energy infrastructure projects” while maintaining high environmental standards.

The Sierra Club called the proposed rule “disastrous.”

“The Trump administration is undermining and attacking the Clean Water Act because it’s more interested in padding corporate polluter profits than ensuring communities have access to safe drinking water,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. “This attack on one of our most fundamental clean water protections seeks to severely limit states’ ability to protect their water, at a time when climate change, water scarcity, and pollution make access to clean water more important than ever.”

A 60-day comment period will begin with publication of the proposed rule in the Federal Register.

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