EPA to undercut own power to block polluting projects
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moved on Wednesday to undercut its own authority to block permits for major projects that may pollute water, in its latest move to unwind regulations and increase “regulatory certainty” for landowners and businesses.

In a memo, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said he is directing the agency’s office of water to change current regulations under the federal Clean Water Act to eliminate the agency’s power to preemptively or retroactively veto permits before or after they have been filed with the Army Corps of Engineers or state agencies.

Pruitt said EPA veto power is unnecessary because the National Environmental Policy Act already requires federal agencies to consider environmental effects from proposed projects, and offers a process for public comment.

“Today’s memo refocuses EPA on its core mission of protecting public health and the environment in a way that is fair and consistent with due process,” Pruitt said in a statement.

The memo also said EPA regional offices would need to get approval from headquarters before attempting to block water permits, and provide a period for public comment before vetoing permits.

Environmental groups have criticized the changes Pruitt has been implementing at the country’s environmental regulatory body, including weakening internal scientific advisory panels and proposed large staffing cuts, saying they threaten to weaken the agency in the long term.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bill Berkrot