A coalition of 20 states and the District of Columbia has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a federal rule published this month that would limit a state's review of energy projects under the Clean Water Act.  

Attorneys general from California, Washington state and New York are leading the suit, filed July 21 in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California. The suit claims the rule, published in the Federal Register July 13, violates the Clean Water Act and “unlawfully usurps state authority to protect the quality of waters within their borders.” The suit also claims that the rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act.

Larry Liebesman, a senior adviser with water-resources consultancy Dawson & Associates, said the suit highlights the fact that while the Trump administration professes to support states’ rights, this rule expressly denies a state's right to determine its own water quality. “The effect of the rule is to adversely affect the sovereignty of the states,” he says.

The rule gives states no more than one year to finish their review of energy projects such as pipelines under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. It was cheered by energy groups that claimed some states were delaying approvals on pipeline projects unnecessarily.

“Today’s lawsuit is needed because the Trump Administration wants to take away California’s long-established right to protect rivers from the negative impacts of massive hydropower dams. Our rivers and streams are critical to California’s ecosystems and economy,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California Secretary for Environmental Protection, in a statement. “Giving the federal government the ability to control California’s environmental future is not an option. We must remain vigilant against these never-ending attacks on common-sense environmental protections.”

Liebesman says the suit will likely move at a relatively slow pace unless the states request the court to expedite it.