House bill would kill Clean Water Act rule, force replacement

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 13, 2015 - House Republicans introduced legislation Monday that would force federal agencies to kill and then replace a proposed rule to re-define what streams, wetlands and other areas are regulated  under the Clean Water Act.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plans to vote Wednesday morning on the bill, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, kicking off what is likely to be a yearlong struggle with the Obama administration over the future of the rule to define the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).

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“This bill will stop this flawed rule, ensure the proper regulatory process is followed, and continue the balanced approach to regulating the nation's waters that has worked well for decades,” said Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, the committee's chairman.

The House passed a similar bill (HR 5078) passed last year, 262-152, but it went nowhere in the Senate, which was then controlled by Democrats.

Congressional Republicans also plan to attack the rule through the appropriations process - the first opportunity for that will come up Wednesday as well when the House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee takes up a bill to fund the Army Corps of Engineers for fiscal 2016.

A standalone bill such as the one Shuster is pushing is unlikely to become law because Democrats could likely uphold a veto at least in the Senate, but the measure gives Republicans a chance to force Democrats to go on record on the issue. It is expected to be much harder for Obama to veto an appropriations measure that is needed to keep government agencies operating. An appropriations provision would only be temporary, however, since it would expire at the end of fiscal 2016.

Shuster's bill would force the withdrawal of the proposed WOTUS rule and then require development of a replacement under a series of restrictions intended to give states, local governments and interest groups a greater say in its scope.

For example, the bill would require the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to “seek to reach consensus with the state and local officials on how to define” waters of the United States.
The new proposal would then have to describe in detail how it addresses the advice and recommendations of state and local officials.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, speaking to a group of community drinking water and wastewater professionals, reiterated recent assurances that the final rule now under review at the Office of Management and Budget will tighten a range of proposed definitions that have raised concerns among farm groups and others. However, she did not divulge any more details about the revisions that have been made.

“The final rule will provide the clarity you've asked us to. We'll nail it,” she said.

She emphasized that point when she was asked by reporters if she had a backup plan in case Congress is successful in killing the rule.

“We're working hard to make sure that it's out in a way to address all of the concerns that have been raised,” she said.


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