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EPA Overreach: Headed for Congressional Push-Back?

The EPA’s unilateral expansion of its authority appears to be heading for some Congressional push-back. Witness a column written by Alaska’s senior Senator, Lisa Murkowski, for Alaska’s Anchorage Daily News, in which Murkowski asks:

“What would Alaskans say if a federal agency retroactively vetoed permits for development of Prudhoe Bay, declaring it never should have been allowed on the North Slope?

What would we think if a federal agency unilaterally banned development in the non-wilderness portion of ANWR?

And what if a federal agency halted efforts to reopen the Nikiski LNG terminal, without any right of appeal, because a tiny portion of the property was once considered wetlands?

While these scenarios might have once seemed far-fetched, all of them – and more – will be possible if the dramatic expansion of EPA’s power under the Clean Water Act continues unchecked.”

Murkowski proceeds to reference her co-sponsorship of S 2156,“The Regulatory Fairness Act,” introduced by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). The bill — at 396 words, a marvel of brevity in the word fog enveloping today’s Washington – aims to put guard rails back on EPA’s authority, declaring that the agency shall have no power to preemptively veto a project that has not yet presented a plan for permitting, nor shall it have ex post facto power to claw back a permit already lawfully granted. ARPN readers will recognize the preemptive and ex post facto cases as the proposed multi-metal Pebble Mine in Alaska – where EPA created a pre-approval process so onerous that both major mining investors paired with the Pebble team withdrew from the project — and the Spruce coal mine in West Virginia, which saw its permit rescinded by EPA two years after it was granted.

Murkowski notes that the proposed bill “does not eliminate EPA’s veto power or prohibit the protection of any lands and waters. It does not make it easier for a project to win approval, or weaken the environmental review process that major projects must undergo. Instead, the bill establishes a reasonable and reliable timeframe for EPA to issue any vetoes it determines necessary.”

In other words, it restores EPA’s authority to the status quo ante – before the agency began to stretch its own powers in ways that will cast a chilling effect not just over mining projects, but as ARPN’s Dan McGroarty has argued, over economic development in sectors as varied as construction, transportation, manufacturing and even agriculture.

As much as $220 billion in economic development comes under EPA’s review each year, a dollar value that will only rise if the Agency succeeds in taking the law into its own hands. It remains to be seen if Congress, as law-maker, takes it back.