Republicans Trying to Simplify Clean Water Permits for Efficiency and Clarity


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Aug 26, 2023
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Republican members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have introduced five bills to simplify Clean Water Act (CWA) permitting. The bills aim to make the permitting process clearer and more efficient. Some of the bills introduced in this Act are Nationwide Permitting Improvement Act and the Reducing Permitting Uncertainty Act. The primary idea behind these bills is to improve Nationwide Permits, prevent untimely EPA vetoes, ensure transparent water quality development, set permit review timelines, and enhance reliability in NPDES permit regulations.
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To me, it sounds less like they're trying to simplify the process and more like they're trying to cut regulations that protect the environment. I understand that the permitting process is lengthy in some cases, but I'm not sure whether that's such a bad thing.
I noticed these five bills - collectively, the "Creating Confidence in Clean Water Permitting Act" - were all successfully voted out of committee a few days ago. The T&I Committee issued a press release on their website announcing approval of the bills.

To me, it sounds less like they're trying to simplify the process and more like they're trying to cut regulations that protect the environment.

I don't know, based on my cursory reading of what they passed, it looks like the five bills are strictly process-related, and don't involve any real changes to Clean Water Act protections. T&I Committee Chairman Sam Graves also basically said as much in his press release. He said the bills "do not overhaul or roll back the Clean Water Act, but instead ensure that permitting processes are more consistent and transparent," which seems pretty accurate.

I noticed that one of the more substantive changes they're proposing is the provision in the Nationwide Permitting Improvement Act (H.R. 7023) that extends the reissuance period for general permits from five to ten years. There's a lot of analysis and paperwork that go into reissuing the general permits every five years, much of which is redundant with past reissuance efforts, so I can't say I object to this change. In particular, the Nationwide Permit (NWP) language is pretty well conserved from year-to-year and many NWPs don't change at all upon reissuance. If the NWPs were good for 10 years and the agencies wanted to make changes within that 10-year period, I think they could focus on just reissuing the specific NWPs they wanted to update without having to reissue everything on five-year cycles. I think there could be real efficiency gains there. Similarly, 10-year reissuance periods are probably appropriate for regional general permits in a lot of cases, particularly those for which conditions on the ground aren't changing much.

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