SALEM — In the face of federal rollbacks on environmental standards, last year Governor Kate Brown signed the Oregon Environmental Protection Act— legislation that adopts the standards of the federal Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act into state law.
This past month, Brown sent a letter to the Acting Administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) detailing opposition to proposed changes to section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 gives the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and tribes the authority to issue water quality certifications for projects that require a permit that may result in a discharge to waters.
“Water quality certifications are required for any activity that is obtaining a federal permit or license and will, or has the potential to, impact waters of the state,” said Steve Mrazik, DEQ Water Quality Program Manager. “They’re how we ensure that projects will meet the state’s water quality standards, which is why the Clean Water Act allows for state input and conditions on these projects.”
DEQ worked with the governor’s office on the letter to the EPA, to articulate what these changes would mean for Oregon’s water quality. The letter highlights a number of significant concerns, including:
- Limiting activities that require water quality certification to point sources only
- Hindering states’ ability to include conditions for approval and allows federal agencies to dismiss conditions
- Restricting application review time regardless of project complexity or completeness of the application
- Lacking meaningful input from the states
There are many potential consequences if these changes go into effect. “If this were to be implemented, it would impact water quality in Oregon,” Mrazik said. “Additionally, Oregon has created some innovative solutions to promote water quality while working with permitees, but limited timeline and ability to enforce conditions would undercut these efforts.”
The governor’s letter is a clear request of the EPA to reconsider rolling back regulations that work well.
“The State of Oregon requests that the EPA give due consideration to the grave and significant concerns raised in this comment letter, withdraw its unlawful proposed rule, and sit down in a meaningful collaboration with the states to define what problems need to be fixed.”
In the 1970s, Congress passed key legislation that protects human health and the environment including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Those laws have been amended and the EPA has adopted rules to implement them. Over time the laws, rules, and policies have gotten more protective as we have learned more about pollutants in the environment.
The current federal administration has reversed course on these environmental regulations or has put in place the structure to do so. More than 80 environmental rules and regulations have been rolled back since President Trump took office.