President Trump plans today to sign an executive order that attempts to limit states’ role in approving permits required for oil and gas projects under the Clean Water Act, undermining federal law and stripping states of their ability to approve or deny projects that will impact their communities and waterways.
The Clean Water Act was established to set a strong federal baseline for protecting the United States’ waterways; section 401 of the Clean Water Act allows states to go above and beyond that federal standard. It provides them the right to assess the local water quality impacts of federally-permitted projects and, if needed, require specific conditions to protect water quality or deny section 401 certification altogether if the water quality impacts of the project are too severe.
Section 401 is a vital tool in the fight against dangerous fossil fuel projects. In 2016, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation took the rare step of denying section 401 certification for the proposed Constitution Pipeline project because of the extensive harm posed to hundreds of New York waterways, halting the project.
“As Congress recognized in the text of the Clean Water Act, it is the states that are best positioned to determine what a project will mean for their waterways and the communities that rely on them,” says Waterkeeper Alliance Executive Director Marc Yaggi. “This executive order shows the administration’s commitment to states’ rights is hollow; once again, the administration is putting profit above all else.”