Inhofe, Senators Propose 401 Reforms

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) joined U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), in introducing the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2019. The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

The bill amends section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The legislation makes several key clarifications to existing law about the appropriate scope of review for a water quality certification. It would also place procedural guardrails and requirements on states as they process requests for certification to prevent future abuses.

“When the United States leads the world in producing natural gas but states in the Northeast have to import Russian LNG, you know there is something wrong. For decades states have routinely certified pipeline and other infrastructure projects under the Clean Water Act without cause for concern, but lately we’ve seen the unfortunate trend of activist state governments blocking projects they deem politically unsavory. From railroads to pipelines and hydropower projects, a minority of states are abusing the water quality certification process for reasons that have nothing to do with water quality to delay needed interstate infrastructure projects at the expense of their neighbors. By clarifying the scope of state reviews under the Clean Water Act, we can ensure that critical projects are assessed based solely on their impacts to water as the statute originally intends.”

The Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2019 would:

  • Clarify that the scope of a section 401 review is limited to water quality impacts only;
  • Clarify that states, when evaluating water quality, can only consider discharges that would result from the federally permitted or licensed activity itself – not from other sources;
  • Require states to publish clear requirements for water quality certification requests;
  • Require states to make final decisions on whether to grant or deny a request in writing based only on water quality reasons; and
  • Require states to inform a project applicant within 90 days whether the states have all of the materials needed to process a certification request.

Read the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2019 here.

Representative David McKinley (R-WV-01) will be introducing the companion bill in the House of Representatives.

Background Information:

Last year, Inhofe, Barrasso, Daines, Capito, and Enzi sponsored the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2018.

On August 16, 2018, the committee held a “Hearing to Examine Implementation of Clean Water Act Section 401 and S. 3303, the Water Quality Certification Improvement Act of 2018.”