Proposed EPA Rule Could Limit Oregon’s Right to Protect Water Quality

Currently, the Clean Water Act gives states the power to regulate water quality within their borders, and this means they can review and block projects that may harm water quality.

For example, Oregon sent Jordan Cove’s developers back to the drawing board, deciding their project as proposed would harm the state’s water quality.  The project includes a liquefied natural gas terminal in Coos Bay, and a 230 mile pipeline crossing over 300 Oregon waterways.

Washington used the same authority to block a coal exporting project in 2017,  the Millennium Bulk Terminal.

The Trump administration is proposing new rules limit state authority to review and block projects like these.

Here’s What the Trump Administration is Proposing

First, the new rules would apply to any project require a federal permit or license.  These projects could include pipelines, dredging facilities, or any project that results in discharges into U.S. waters.  It would also allow federal agencies to decide how much time a state has to review a project, and the state would lose its review rights if it can’t meet the deadline.

Here’s the Problem

This is problematic because developers often submit information that is so incomplete that state regulators can’t make any decision about a project at all. Quite often, regulators wind up asking developers for more information, and it is not uncommon for developers to need time to generate answers. This has been the case with proposed Jordan Cove project.

According to OPB, attorney Andrew Hawley with the Western Environmental Law Center said the Clean Water Act gives a state the ability to advocate for its citizens’ right to clean water.

“Essentially the administration is stacking the deck in a way that would make it impossible for states to play that vital role of protecting their communities and their citizens from the impacts of these types of projects,” Hawley said.

Hawley worries that if federal agencies gives states too tight of a timeframe to review a project, it could become impossible for states to conduct thorough reviews.

“What will happen is that state won’t be able to meet these standards,” he said. “Then the federal agencies have the ability to say, ‘Well, this … decision doesn’t comply with these rules the EPA laid out, we’re just going to ignore it.’”

Public Comment Open Until October 21

The EPA has published the new rule, and the public can comment by following the links on their site. The deadline is October 21. Otherwise, there are two public comment sessions in scheduled for early September in Salt Lake City.

By Andy Thompson