In a move that promotes greater state influence over licensing natural gas pipelines, a California federal judge overturned a Trump-era US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule designed to streamline Clean Water Act (CWA) approvals.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup, overseeing the case in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, on Thursday overturned a rule finalized last year that placed limits on state authority over decisions of Section 401 of the CWA.
The changes under the Trump administration were aimed at avoiding indefinite delays in infrastructure projects authorized by agencies such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Responding to legal challenges brought by states, tribes and conservation groups, Alsup ordered that the Trump-era rule be overturned and returned to the EPA. The EPA, for its part, had asked the court to return the rule without overturning it.
EPA officials under President Biden had previously signaled their intention to revise the old administration’s rule in favor of strengthening state and tribal influence over the CWA Section 401 process.
“In light of the lack of reasoned decision-making and apparent errors in the scope of the rule’s certification, indications that the rule contravenes the structure and purpose of the Clean Water Act, and that the EPA itself has reported that it cannot or will not adopt the same rule after referral, there is significant doubt that the EPA properly promulgated the rule, ”Alsup wrote of the rule of the Trump era.
Alsup also found that plaintiffs challenging Trump’s EPA changes have shown that “significant environmental damage is likely to occur” if the rule remains in place. The potential damage to the environment outweighs the “disruptive economic consequences” of rescinding the rule, and the further economic damage “does not outweigh significant doubts that the EPA properly enacted” the rule. rule, wrote the judge.
The Section 401 rule marks the Trump administration’s latest environmental retreat to get the ax since President Biden took office. or which water bodies fall under the jurisdiction of the CWA. Meanwhile, Congress voted in June to reinstate Obama-era controls on methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector that had been partially canceled by Trump’s EPA.