Trump Administration Revokes Another Key Clean Water Regulation amid COVID-19 Pandemic

by: Arun, Sudhit Rao, Kaushal Kumar

On Monday, the Trump Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they would be removing a key portion of the Clean Water Act, now depriving states the ability to block what would be harmful pipeline projects that cross within their waterways. States are now limited in yet another way in moderating clean water quality– before the removal of this rule, part of section 401, states were allowed one year to approve or reject projects that go through rivers and streams to weigh how the project would affect the water quality in the surrounding region. The justification given by an EPA administrator was that the law has “held [the] nation’s energy infrastructure projects hostage.”

The announcement is the latest in a series of controversial decisions made by the EPA since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EPA has loosened pollution regulations, limited clean water regulations, and has lifted regulations on harmful chemicals, warranting a fierce opposition in their decisions.

The original laws stood in place to prevent the construction of pipelines or other pieces of infrastructure that may have a negative impact on the quality of water in the area, but also for other worries such as the project’s impact on the climate or how the scarcity of water is may cause. This allowed local governments to determine what was best for their communities and block the construction of projects that may have had an adverse impact on the well-being of the surrounding and people of the area. The new legislation that was recently put out by the EPA prevents states from vetoing construction if climate change or worries about the water supply are their main disputes of the project. 

The Trump Administration claims that the current rules in place were being misused to stall and in some cases prevent the development of infrastructure that would have no impact on the water quality, but rather were disliked due to political beliefs. The Trump Administration hopes that new construction projects will be approved faster, and prevent them from being in political limbos for extended periods of time. This choice is a huge win for fossil fuel companies, who now will have an easier time securing infrastructure projects without a state government being able to step in and prevent the construction with concerns of sustainability and resource management. This action is just another step taken by the Trump Administration to support the harmful fossil fuel industry.

Mark Ryan, an environmental lawyer who worked at the EPA for over 20 years reacted to this saying “I think it’s very low probability they’ll get this past the Supreme Court.” He claims that applicants will be motivated to leave out information to drag projects into the following year. Washington’s Governor and Attorney General, Jay Inslee and Bob Ferguson, were opposed to the rule when it was first announced stating that they will continue to evaluate projects as per their criteria. Environmental groups such as the National Resource Defense Council called the change a “dangerous mistake.” 

The Trump Administration has yet again made a controversial decision in regards to the Clean Water Act, by limiting states’ rights from dismissing pipeline projects. This decision has countless ramifications on the environment due to the damaging nature of these pipeline projects and will worsen the state of the environment in the future.