Attorney General James Slams Trump EPA's Attempt To Weaken The Clean Water Act

Attorney General James Slams Trump EPA’s Attempt to Weaken the Clean Water Act  

NEW YORK – Attorney General Letitia James, with a coalition of 14 states and environmental agencies, today filed a comment letter denouncing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidance that attempts to roll back state involvement in the permitting of federal projects under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 and other provisions of the Clean Water Act preserve states’ authority to protect the quality of the waters within their borders.

“The Clean Water Act is a major tool for states to protect against the pollution of our waterways,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “For every effort to weaken environmental protections and erode oversight over big polluters, we will respond in kind. New York is committed to fighting to protect our waters and our environment.” 

In the comment letter, the coalition asserts that EPA’s guidance implementing President Trump’s April 2019 Executive Order is unlawful, directly contravenes both the language and intent of the Clean Water Act, and undermines state authority recognized under the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act reflects Congress’ policy to “recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of states to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution” of waters within their borders. Under Section 401 of the statute, a project requiring federal approval that may result in discharges into state waters must obtain state certification confirming that the project meets state water quality standards and other appropriate state law requirements. This certification process ensures adequate assessment of the water quality impacts of proposed federal actions and the imposition of necessary conditions to remedy such impacts.

The multistate coalition argues that EPA’s guidance is improper. Specifically, the coalition objects to EPA’s disregard for the Clean Water Act, which provides states with a reasonable timeframe to complete the Section 401 water quality certification process. Furthermore, the group opposes EPA’s attempt to restrict the scope of states’ review of projects under Section 401 and to impose federal oversight over the states’ Section 401 decisions. The states request that EPA withdraw or revise the guidance to rectify the issues identified in the comment letter.