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EPA Moves To Speed Up Pipeline Reviews

WASHINGTON – States would have no more than one year to make a decision on whether to approve oil and gas pipelines, dams and other construction projects crossing their waterways, under a new regulation proposed by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler Friday.

The move comes as states and tribal groups have become increasingly critical of the environmental impact of infrastructure projects, particularly those transporting fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

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

New York state has blocked a series of natural gas pipeline projects running to New England, drawing opposition from oil and gas companies arguing the state is pushing the boundaries of a law designed to protect water quality. In some instances, pipeline decisions have dragged out years as developers went back and forth with state regulators over what are known as Section 401 reviews.

“Some states have viewed Section 401 as a means of determining which interstate pipeline projects are in the public interest and which are not,” Don Santa, president of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said in a statement. “EPA’s draft rule is necessary to restore efficient and consistent implementation of Section 401 reviews.”

The rule change would also put tighter restrictions on states’ ability to block projects, limiting opposition to specific water quality issues and requiring that in the event of a denial they specify what if any information was lacking.

In April, President Donald Trump signed executive orders directing the EPA to review the agency’s permitting processes to speed up the construction of pipelines.

“Too often, badly needed energy infrastructure is being held back by special interest groups, entrenched bureaucracies and radical activists,” Trump said during a speech outside Houston that same month.

But the proposed rule change is unlikely to prevent states such as New York from blocking projects they oppose, experts say. Most projects carry some environmental risk upon which state regulators could base their opposition.

Wheeler’s proposed changes were criticized as a federal attack on states’ rights, a controversial issue among many Republicans in Congress, who, despite lobbying by oil and gas companies, have been reluctant to change the water quality laws to limit states’ authority.

“Apparently the Trump administration only likes states’ rights when it can use them as an excuse to allow polluters to destroy streams and pave over wetlands,” said Madeleine Foote, deputy legislative director at environmental advocacy group League of Conservation Voters. “At a time when communities across the country are suffering from water crises in the form of dead zones, lead contamination, and so many other challenges, this proposed rule is the exact opposite of what is needed.”

The EPA said Friday it is “in consultation with state, local and tribal partners, as well as other federal agencies” and plans to finalize the rule in May 2020.


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