Multi-front attack on clean water takes aim at state authority

States’ ability to ensure water protections in massive federally approved projects like mines or dams would take a major blow under an EPA proposal. The agency is taking comments on the rollbacks until Oct. 21. (© Robert Llewellyn)

UPDATE: EPA released its new rule, limiting state's and tribe's authority to protect waterways, on June 1, 2020. SELC will be reviewing the rule.


In another affront to clean water protections, the Trump administration is proposing to weaken the key mechanism states use to ensure federally approved construction projects, like mines, interstate pipelines or dams, don’t pollute or destroy our water.

SELC will be submitting our comments on the administration’s proposal, along with numerous partners, before the public comment period ends Monday, Oct. 21. You can add your voice to those urging federal officials not to cut key input from environmental reviews by clicking “Comment Now” at this link.

The specific issue at hand is a core provision of the Clean Water Act, the central federal law protecting our streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands from industrial pollution and development. Section 401 of the act gives states and tribes the power to limit pollution from projects that require a federal permit. In the past, states have depended on the Clean Water Act Section 401 certification process to lessen impacts from massive dams, giant river alterations, huge wetland fills, and interstate fossil fuel infrastructure. For example, through the Section 401 certification process, states have required federal dams preserve stream flow necessary for aquatic life and provide fish passage for spawning.

The administration’s proposed changes are designed to undercut the role of states and tribes in protecting their local waterways and wetlands and the public’s ability to participate in reviews of destructive projects. These exclusions limit states’ and tribes’ ability to protect waterways, thus allowing more pollution into our rivers, lakes, and the drinking water sources that our families and communities use every day.

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