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State and Tribal Ability to Protect Clean Water Under Threat – Comment Now

Recently, the state of Minnesota denied a permit for a Canadian oil pipeline planned to cross the state. The state environmental agency, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), denied the permit because they needed more information to determine if the proposed 340-mile pipeline would meet state water quality standards. Specifically, MPCA was seeking information on the pipeline company’s plans for oil spill response, monitoring, and how they would mitigate impacts to the hundreds of acres of wetlands that the pipeline will adversely affect.

Minnesota has the authority to do this under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 allows states and many tribes to evaluate the impact of any proposed federally-licensed or permitted project on local waterways, and determine if there are impacts that need mitigation or further information. Ultimately, states have the power to approve the permit, place conditions on the permit, or to deny the project. This is by design: the Clean Water Act intended to balance state and federal power.

Now this authority is under attack. The Trump Administration has proposed to change section 401 to limit the ability of states and tribes to use this authority – an effort to preempt state decisions. They do this by proposing to limit the time for review, restricting the scope of review, and allowing federal agencies to remove state conditions, all of which undermine state involvement and input.

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In addition to Minnesota, a number of states have used section 401 to limit the impact of pipelines across their states. Section 401 also applies to federal hydropower permits and other federally permitted projects that may result in a discharge. As a result, many states are on record opposing any proposed weakening of section 401.

Join these states and many others by taking action before October 21st to tell the Environmental Protection Agency to protect clean water and NOT to weaken the ability of states and tribes to protect our waterways.

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