News Feature | April 15, 2014

Congress To Reduce EPA's Power Under Clean Water Act?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


The Senate is considering legislation to rein in the EPA's power to withhold Clean Water Act permits. 

The Regulatory Fairness Act, S. 2156, would prohibit the EPA "from preemptively or retroactively vetoing a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act," according to the Cordova Times. It was introduced last month by Sens. Joe Manchin, D- W.Va., and David Vitter, R-LA.

The measure would "amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to confirm the scope of the authority of the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to deny or restrict the use of defined areas as disposal sites," according to the legislation. 

The efforts follows a move by the EPA vetoing a proposed mine in Bristol Bay in Alaska. 

"Officials decided to preemptively block the construction of a proposed copper-gold site, known as Pebble Mine, in order to protect fisheries in Bristol Bay, Morris News Service reported

The senators promoting the legislation framed the EPA's move as economically damaging. 

“For far too long, the EPA has been waging a destructive war against energy production, and it is costing countless American jobs and investment opportunities,” Senator Manchin said in statement

He said economic recovery depends on market certainty, and that the country cannot afford to harm the energy industry. 

Vitter argued that the EPA abused its authority. 

“After seeing the EPA grossly overstep on established permitting procedures in a manner that undermines the rule of law, it is clear that this legislation is necessary to protect the system and distinctly state what the EPA can and cannot do," he said. 

The advocacy group Bristol Bay United, which opposes the proposed Pebble Mine, gave the legislation a negative review

Tim Bristol, a Bristol Bay United advocate, said in a statement: “It’s ironic that Senators Manchin and Vitter claim to be standing up for American jobs when their legislation would likely lead to the destruction of 14,000 American fishing jobs." 

He argued that the senators are working on behalf of foreign mining companies rather than American fisherman. 

The EPA derives its authority to block the mine from section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act. 

"Section 404(c) gives the agency authority to restrict permits at 'any time,' and can do so if such development will have an “unacceptable adverse effect” on waterways or fisheries," the advocacy group said. 

It appears the proposed legislation would negate the EPA's permit denial.

"No previous action by the Administrator to deny or restrict the use or prohibit the specification of any defined area as a disposal site and for which the Secretary had issued a permit under sub-section (a) of this section, and which occurred after the Secretary issued the permit, is valid or otherwise enforceable amend Seciton 404 (c)," the legislation says.  

The EPA explained its decision about the mine: “Extensive scientific study has given us ample reason to believe that the Pebble mine would likely have significant and irreversible impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and its abundant salmon fisheries,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in an EPA release, published by Morris News.

For more on government oversight, check out Water Online's Regulations and Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Capitol Hill," Fovea Centralis © 2007, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license:

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