GOP expands attack on Clean Water Act rule with appropriations bill

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 14, 2015 - A House bill to fund the Army Corps of Engineers for the next fiscal year would stop the Obama administration from implementing its revised Clean Water Act rule until the fall of 2016 at the earliest.

The rule, which is now under final review at the Office of Management and Budget, would re-define what streams, ponds, ditches and other areas would be regulated under the law as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).

House Republicans are mounting a two-pronged attack on the rule.

The fiscal 2016 spending bill that the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee will vote on Wednesday would prohibit the administration from enforcing the rule starting Oct. 1. The provision, which says the administration cannot “develop, adopt, implement, administer or enforce any change” to the WOTUS definition, would have to be renewed for fiscal 2017, which starts Oct. 1, 2016.

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The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is taking up a separate bill Wednesday that would force the administration to simply withdraw the rule and then propose a replacement after consultation with state and local officials, which have raised broad concerns with the existing plan.

That standalone bill has little chance of becoming law given the likelihood of a presidential veto, but it would allow House Republicans to force Democrats to go on record on the issue. Opponents of the WOTUS rule say the appropriations provision is only a temporary fix, although it represents their best chance to stop the rule from being implemented.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is cosponsoring the House Transportation and Infrastructure bill.

“In its current form, this rule continues EPA's massive overreach, leading to exorbitant permitting costs, red tape, and even effective loss of property use for landowners. This could happen even when the land or water in question has no impact on navigable or interstate waters meant to be protected under the law, including virtually every farm ditch and pond in this country,” Conaway said.

A vaguely worded, non-binding amendment that called for limiting the reach of the Clean Water Act was approved by the Senate, 59-40, in March. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who was absent at the time, would have provided a 60th vote but that's still well short of the 67 Republicans would need to overcome a veto.

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The House and Senate have held multiple hearings on the issue and another was planned Tuesday afternoon by a House Natural Resources subcommittee. However, officials with the Bureau of Reclamation declined to appear at the hearing to testify about the potential impact of the rule.

The chairman of the full committee, Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the agency's “stunning refusal to testify before the subcommittee about the impacts of EPA's Waters of the Unites States rule is unacceptable.”

The Energy and Water spending bill would provide $5.6 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers, a $142 million increase over fiscal 2015 and $865 million than President Obama requested.

The bill would provide $2.4 billion for navigation projects and studies, including $1.2 billion in funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. The bill would also ensure that the entire annual revenue into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund is spent on improvements to locks and dams and other waterway needs.

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