Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released a statement June 1 after the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its proposed rule that changes the permit certification process under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, curtailing states’ power to review, modify or deny permits for federally permitted projects.

“While our country is embroiled in widespread civil unrest, a deadly pandemic and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, today, the Trump administration finalized a rule that undermines states’ power to protect their water resources,” said Carper. “At a time when clean water is critically important for public health – when the administration should be working around the clock to expand access to clean water in communities that desperately need it — this rule will limit states’ ability to protect the quality of their drinking water.

“This rule defies Congressional intent and flies in the face of cooperative federalism — a concept, we’re reminded, that’s merely a pretense in this administration,” said Carper. “When Congress established section 401 of the Clean Water Act, Congress empowered states to review and challenge federal permits for energy and other projects that could adversely affect the quality of a state’s waters, wetlands and resources that maintain healthy streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters. This has ensured that states can protect their environment, their water and their citizens, as Congress intended. In a departure from decades of mutual cooperation, this rule will severely limit the time and scope of states’ review of federal energy project permits, rendering states virtually powerless to stop a harmful federal project from being built.”

“Despite his campaign pledges against federal overreach and his repeated promises for ‘crystal clear’ water, this rule makes ‘crystal clear’ where the president’s priorities really lie,” said Carper. “This is yet another environmental rollback the administration has finalized over the last few months. In the shadow of national crises, the Trump Administration is creating another, one that could threaten the quality of our air, land and water for decades to come.”

In June 2019, EPA released guidance for President Trump’s executive order that — in clear violation of Congressional intent — undermines states’ rights to review applications for CWA Section 401 water quality certifications.

In response, Carper was joined by Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, and Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, his fellow co-founders of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus, in sending a letter to EPA demanding information related to the agency’s efforts to modify the process for state review of applications.

In October 2019, the three senators sent another letter to the agency and urged EPA to reverse course on its proposal. The senators wrote that the proposed changes undercut state authorities, violate congressional intent, face bipartisan opposition from state regulators and are unnecessary due to states’ longtime responsible and expeditious handling of Section 401 responsibilities.