Gordon to testify on water statute
November 14, 2019
CASPER — Next week, Gov. Mark Gordon will head to Washington, D.C., to testify before Sen. John Barrasso’s Committee on the Environment and Public Works about potential reforms to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.
The governor is the latest in a string of Wyoming officials invited by Barrasso to speak in Washington since he took command of the committee in 2017.
A hallmark provision of the act, Section 401 allows states and tribes to manage the permitting of federal projects that discharge into their jurisdiction’s waters. It is also one of the act’s more controversial statutes.
Some laud it for its generous allowances to states that wish to protect their waterways, while others loathe it for the broad cover it offers states, seeing it as an oftentimes burdensome hindrance to economic development — particularly on energy projects.
In particular, Barrasso, who is leading an effort to reform Section 401, is inviting Gordon to offer on-the-ground testimony about Wyoming’s woes gaining access to foreign markets for its coal industry — a barrier directly tied to Washington’s alleged “abuse” of the Clean Water Act.
In a statement following an April executive order by President Donald Trump pursuing reforms to the law, Gordon argued states along the West Coast “have abused their authority under section 401 of the Clean Water Act to unfairly discriminate against Wyoming coal,” arguing for reforms to the law that could focus the application of the law as a tool to protect water quality, rather than as a tool for opponents of fossil fuels like
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
“I am so glad that Governor Gordon is coming to Washington to testify on how the Clean Water Act is being hijacked by a number of states,” Barrasso said in a statement. “Washington state is blocking Wyoming coal from being exported around the world. Their actions threaten American energy dominance and harm energy workers in Wyoming. We need reform. I look forward to Governor Gordon’s testimony and working with him to improve and strengthen Section 401 of the Clean Water Act.”
Beyond the matter at hand, however, next Tuesday’s hearing highlights how Barrasso has used his platform to promote Wyoming’s perspective to help shape national environmental policy.
When Gordon testifies before the committee next week, he will add to a list of two dozen people from Wyoming — including former Govs. Dave Freudenthal and Matt Mead — who have testified before the committee on Barrasso’s invitation. Citizens of Wyoming and other members of the bureaucracy often find themselves with invitations to Washington, but it is far rarer to find incidences of the state’s chief executive being invited to testify in front of Congress prior to 2017.
While some, like former Gov. Jim Geringer, have sent proxies to Washington to testify on their behalf for issues impacting their states, it is an uncommon event in Congress when a Wyoming governor comes to town, making Tuesday’s event — which will also feature testimony by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt — that much more significant.
“I want to thank Senator Barrasso for inviting me to testify before the EPW committee,” Gordon said in a statement. “I believe that Clean Water Act Section 401 reform should be focused, be efficient and appropriately balance the federal government’s jurisdiction with state autonomy. We can protect water quality, build infrastructure responsibly and promote interstate commerce under Section 401.”