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New York Harbor site of Williamsburg Pipeline project NY state denied Photo: Wayne Parry, AP
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday issued another rule dealing a blow to 40 years of settled law on the authority of states and tribes under the Clean Water Act to block fossil fuel projects such as natural gas pipelines and coal terminals that could pollute state waterways. The New York Times reports that the rollback infringes on states’ legal rights and their ability to ensure that drinking water supplies are safe, which are needed especially to protect frontline communities. This announcement came the same day that the EPA Inspector General found that the agency failed to protect North Carolina drinking water from massive loads of PFAS or “forever” chemicals due to a lack of coordination between the regional office and the office of compliance and enforcement.
Undercuts The Clean Water Act and Fuels Water Injustice
According to Robert Irvin, the President of American Rivers and one of the nation’s leading legal experts on the Clean Water Act, Congress “gave states the authority to do more than the federal government is doing in order to clean up our rivers and have fishable, swimmable waters. He told The Washington Post that, “[t]his administration is happy to put the responsibility for dealing with the pandemic on the states, but they’re far too quick to strip states of authority when they’re trying to protect rivers and clean water.” Environmental groups and states argued this significantly hurts their ability to evaluate complicated projects with their limited resources and now companies seeking permits will just delay requests to submit data and run out the new one-year time clock. However, the agency has shown repeatedly it is lax on water enforcement. Yesterday, the EPA’s own Inspector General found that the Agency failed to enforce its own order against a Dupont chemical company and now the state of North Carolina has found “staggering” levels of PFAS in the Cape Fear River there that provides drinking water to many local towns.
Why This Matters: Rivers are often touted as an environmentally friendly and cheap mode of transportation – even here in the U.S. (e.g., the Mississippi River). But there are many other users who rely on these waterways in India for fishing and other livelihoods.
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