The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday issued a new 401 Certification Rule under the Clean Water Act (CWA), aggressively curtailing the role states and tribal governments have played for 50 years in deciding whether projects that can harm water quality should receive federal permits. The 401 Certification Rule narrows what issues state and tribal governments may consider when determining whether a project will comply with state water quality standards. Under the new regulatory framework, states and tribes, whose approval is a prerequisite for obtaining a federal permit under the CWA, may only consider a project’s impact to water quality alone and not its impact on air emissions or road traffic congestion. The rule, set to take effect September 11, also forbids state and tribal governments from imposing conditions on permit approvals unrelated to water quality. Hours after the final rule was published, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking to block the regulation.
President Donald Trump this Wednesday unilaterally weakened one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws, the National Environmental Policy Act, issuing a new rule limiting public review of federal infrastructure projects to speed up the permitting of freeways, power plants, and pipelines. The final rule sets new hard deadlines of between one and two years to complete environmental studies, according to two sources. The rule will also allow agencies to develop categories of activities that do not require an environmental assessment, and only require an agency to analyze a project's “reasonably foreseeable” impacts on the environment rather than, as under the old rule, its indirect or “cumulative” impacts, which some say will avoid the analysis of infrastructure impacts on climate change.
Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday struck down a 2018 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule weakening restrictions on methane gas releases from drilling on public land. The rule was expected to allow for more methane leaks in a process called flaring. The court determined that BLM’s rulemaking process was “wholly inadequate”—ruling that the agency had “ignored its statutory mandate under the Mineral Leasing Act;” “repeatedly failed to justify numerous reversals in policy positions previously taken;” and “failed to consider scientific findings and institutions relied upon by both prior Republican and Democratic administrations.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday threw a significant curveball at a coalition that has been planning for years to demolish four massive hydroelectric dams on a river along the Oregon-California border to revive plummeting salmon populations. The deal, which would be the largest dam demolition project in U.S. history, relies on a delicate calculus: The power company that operates the Klamath River dams will transfer its hydroelectric license and contribute $250 million in order to sever itself from the removal project and avoid any further liability or unanticipated costs. However, this week FERC approved the license transfer on the condition that PacifiCorp remain a co-licensee along with the Klamath River Renewal Corporation, which could undo or drastically alter the deal reached.