The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to alter permitting processes for pipelines, a move opponents say is designed to target states like New York that have sparred with President Donald Trump over fossil fuel infrastructure.
Through changes to the Clean Water Act, which governs U.S. water pollution, the EPA plans to streamline approvals for pipelines along with other infrastructure. The water regulations have up until now been a sticking point as states have pushed back against the Trump administration’s fossil fuel ambitions.
EPA head Andrew Wheeler on Thursday signed the new proposal, which would limit the ability of states to cite the Clean Water Act in their efforts to halt fossil fuel projects, namely natural gas pipelines. Under the new rules, a one year deadline applies to states overseeing permitting processes.
If states miss that deadline, or cite other reasons apart from water issues for rejecting permits, their authority under the Clean Water Act could be invalidated, with final say then transferring to the federal government and agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). That agency is meant to be bipartisan but has recently slanted conservative.
The EPA is characterizing the rule change as “modernizing and clarifying” current agency rules, while “reducing regulatory uncertainty” for adherents, according to the proposal.
Exercising authority under the Clean Water Act has been key for states looking to skirt Trump’s nationwide push for expanded fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as during prior administrations. New York and other northeastern states in particular have sought to use potential water issues as a rationale for blocking planned pipelines, as have West Coast states like Washington.
The Trump administration has clamped down on that resistance. In April, the president signed two executive orders to speed up oil and gas pipeline projects. At the time, Trump argued that states resisting pipeline infrastructure were committing “obstruction” and “hurting the country.”
The move was seen as a favor to efforts like the Williams Northeast Supply Enhancement fracked gas pipeline proposed in New York and New Jersey; climate advocates have repeatedly argued that the project is at odds with the region’s efforts to combat global warming.
Now, the back-and-forth between Trump and certain states is continuing with the EPA’s latest rule change. And in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Wheeler singled out New York.
“What we’ve seen is states using the Clean Water Act… to hold up these projects. It’s a regulation to tell all the states to follow the law,” Wheeler said.
Opponents of the new changes have already argued that pipeline companies may submit paperwork requiring revisions, potentially pushing back permitting processes until the one year deadline expires. But even with the new rules, states still have a significant amount of power over permit reviews, potentially limiting the proposal’s impacts.
The new proposal, however, is likely to further entrench divisions between Trump and certain states. That trend extends beyond pipeline efforts. Trump has, for example, repeatedly clashed with California over issues ranging from vehicle emissions standards to wildfire aid, in a sparring match state officials argue is purely partisan.
The Clean Water Act changes mark a similar escalation with New York, also over environmental issues. Thursday’s announcement kicked off a 60-day comment period for the new rules and Wheeler is expected to roll out the changes on Friday at a National Association of Manufacturers event in South Carolina.