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EPA Cannot ‘Veto’ its Clean Water Act Veto Authority

“The Clean Water Act clearly spells out that the EPA has the power to stop destructive projects, and this power cannot be restricted by re-writing the rules.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The EPA should halt its efforts to limit its veto power under the Clean Water Act, the National Wildlife Federation and more than 300 other conservation and social justice organizations and businesses said today in a letter to the agency.

“The Clean Water Act clearly spells out that the EPA has the power to stop destructive projects, and this power cannot be restricted by re-writing the rules. The EPA should stop trying to undermine the law and should instead focus on its mission of protecting people and the environment,” said Melissa Samet, senior water resources counsel for the National Wildlife Federation.

The groups’ letter was prompted by an unusual June 26, 2018 memo from then-EPA head Scott Pruitt that directed the agency to initiate a rulemaking aimed at eliminating its authority to initiate a Clean Water Act 404(c) veto before a permit application has been officially filed or after the Army Corps has issued a permit. The courts have ruled that the Clean Water Act explicitly allows the EPA administrator to block a project whenever he or she determines that it will have unacceptable environmental impacts.

The EPA has used this authority on just 13 out of more than two million Section 404 activities in the 46-year history of the Clean Water Act. Eleven of the 13 actions were taken under Republican administrations.

“These 404(c) actions have protected more than 200,000 acres of wetlands and 36 miles of rivers and streams in 11 states, including:  red maple forested swamps in New England; vital bottomland hardwood wetlands in Mississippi and Georgia; blue crab and shrimp spawning grounds in South Carolina; fish nurseries and black duck habitat in the Chesapeake Bay; habitat for endangered and threatened species in Florida and New Jersey; a gold medal trout stream in Virginia; and some of the last remaining high quality headwater streams in West Virginia,” the letter states.

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