Exploiting a Clean Water Act loophole, Trump issues blanket approvals for pipelines

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The Trump administration has issued a series of blanket permits for high-polluting activities to fast-track projects that should require more careful review.

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act has a provision that allows for the general permitting of a category of activity when each of its individual projects inflict “minimal adverse environmental effects,” and the category as a whole inflicts “minimal cumulative adverse effect on the environment.”

Ask yourself: Do oil and gas pipelines fit into this category? Individual pipelines often cross numerous water bodies and can destroy them in the process. And the pipelines’ construction and operations can go awry, creating dangerous accidents with messes that tend to stick around for lengthy periods of time. Cumulatively, they lock in decades of fossil fuel consumption, which accelerates climate change for generations to come. By no reasonable definition of the term minimal do these pipelines fit into this Clean Water Act provision.

However, because the Trump administration wants to pretend climate change doesn’t exist, it doesn’t see (or want to see) why many pipelines should be reviewed individually for their potential impacts on the environment. And so, in the 58th minute of the 11th hour of his presidency, Trump issued a rule allowing pipeline developers to skirt important environmental safeguards.

But wait, the outrage isn’t limited to oil and gas pipelines. Trump’s last-minute decision also fast-tracks projects for industrial fish farms, surface mines, and other large-scale developments. The move is particularly dangerous because Trump has issued numerous regulatory actions that undercut critical protections for U.S. waterways.

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