(Adds comments from EPA, Washington Governor Jay Inslee)
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - California, New York, Washington and 17 other U.S. states on Tuesday sued the federal government over Trump administration rules that they say undercut the states' authority to deny permits for projects that could harm their waterways.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, New York Attorney General Letitia James and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit in the Northern District court of California against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which last month finalized a rule limiting state powers to block energy infrastructure projects by curtailing their authority under the Clean Water Act.
The EPA altered section 401 of the federal water law to make it impossible for a state to block a water permit for a project for any reason other than direct pollution into state waters. States have previously weighed broader factors, such as climate change, to make decisions on projects.
"Once again, the Trump Administration is attempting to undermine the Clean Water Act – this time by limiting longstanding state authority to protect our waters from degradation tied to federally approved projects," Becerra said in a statement.
Last month, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the change would prevent states from holding "our nation's energy infrastructure projects hostage."
In a statement, an EPA spokesperson said the final rule increases the "transparency and efficiency" of the section 401 certification process."
Wheeler and industry groups have criticized New York for denying a water permit this year to allow a pipeline to deliver gas from nearby Pennsylvania to New York City.
Washington state denied a water permit in 2017, effectively blocking the construction of a coal export terminal.
"This rule is an unprecedented assault on the right and obligation of every state to protect our waters," Washington Governor Jay Inslee said.
In the lawsuit, the attorneys general argue that the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act and Clean Water Act and must be vacated.
They also argue that the rule would speed up timelines for decision making and limit the amount of information industries would need to provide states about their projects.
Tuesday's lawsuit marks the 50th time California has sued the Trump administration over environmental rollbacks, Becerra's office said. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.