In a major reversal of Trump-era efforts to advance fossil interests, the Biden administration is restoring the rights of state and Indigenous lawmakers to refuse major energy projects that could threaten water security.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “will rewrite a rule finalized last year under…Donald Trump that upended the way the Clean Water Act had worked for half a century,” the Washington Post wrote late last month. During his tenure, Trump had used his Sharpie to curtail the ability of states and Indigenous communities “to protest major energy projects that threaten rivers, lakes, and streams.”
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Suddenly at risk of far greater scrutiny are projects near and dear to fossil balance sheets, including “massive ports for shipping coal abroad, seaside terminals for supercooling gas, and thousands upon thousands of miles of pipelines cutting through rivers and streams.”
While Trump could not do a complete end-run around legislation that requires state and tribal permission for projects that could potentially pollute a watershed, he was able to reduce the time and scope allowed for local impact review. Under the new terms, state and tribal officials will be able to factor in water-related impacts of the climate crisis, like drought, when evaluating whether a particular project should be allowed to proceed.
“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,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
The move to restore local oversight “comes as the construction of new oil and gas pipelines has emerged as a major point of tension in Biden’s infrastructure push,” notes the Post. Restoring state and tribal authority over issues pertaining to watershed health could end up “taking some of the heat off the White House”.
In a recent op-ed for Canary Media, two lawyers from the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law argue that the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which oversees interstate pipelines, “must fix its broken approach.”
In recent years, say Sarah Ladin and Max Sarinsky, “the U.S. federal government has rubber-stamped nearly every proposal advanced to construct natural gas pipelines.” Now, the two attorneys are urging the commission to stop forcing the U.S. public to pay for unnecessary pipelines over a span of decades.
“The commission should use its authority to meaningfully consider climate impacts and reject proposals that are inconsistent with national energy needs,” they write. “While an ongoing proceeding offers FERC the opportunity to revise its policies, it will likely require a change in the commission’s membership later this year to allow these crucially important reforms to occur.”