EPA to Toss Trump-Era Limits on State and Tribal Control of Waterways

Reversing another policy from the last administration, President Biden’s EPA is bolstering the ability of states and tribes to block pipelines and other energy projects that could pollute rivers and lakes.

The Colorado River, near Utah’s Highway 95. (Courthouse News photo / Bill Girdner)

(CN) — The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a plan to rewrite changes made by the Trump administration last year that eroded local authority over the protection of waterways. 

“We have serious water challenges to address as a nation and as EPA administrator, I will not hesitate to correct decisions that weakened the authority of states and tribes to protect their waters,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement Thursday.

Section 401 of the Clean Water Act enacted by Congress in 1972 gave tribes and states the authority to halt federal projects that could pollute nearby streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands.  

The EPA under former President Donald Trump, however, diminished input from local governments when it comes to these projects. Aligning with fossil fuel interests, the agency in 2020 finalized a revised rule that aimed to fast-track permitting for projects like oil and gas pipelines. 

Regan, who became the first Black man to serve as EPA administrator in March, said that all state, tribal, local and federal partners need to collaborate in order to protect clean water.

“Today, we take an important step to realize this commitment and reaffirm the authority of states and tribes,” Regan said. 

He added that the protection of clean water “underpins sustainable economic development and vibrant communities.”

The Trump-era policy will remain in place while regulators work to develop the new rule, but the EPA on Thursday said it will work with local leaders to discuss near-term issues in the meantime.

“States and tribes have relied on the Clean Water Act for almost 50 years to protect our waters and people, and EPA’s action is essential to restoring that historic authority,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday applauding the move.

The EPA says that its reconsideration of the 2020 rule will give stakeholders and members of the public an opportunity to provide input that can inform the development of a new regulation.

Brown commended the Biden administration’s collaborative approach to protecting America’s waters. 

“The prior administration’s rule was not only harmful to the environment, it was corrosive to state, federal, and tribal partnerships,” the governor said. “Communities rely on clean water, businesses rely on clean water, and our environment is dependent on clean water.”

In another rebuke of Trump’s environmental agenda, President Joe Biden immediately upon taking office directed federal regulators to block his predecessor’s attempt to gift automakers with a nationwide fuel emissions standard that would have allowed them to produce cheaper, dirtier cars. 

The Biden EPA has also removed several advisers picked by Trump in an effort to ensure it is guided by the best possible science.

%d bloggers like this: