House votes to gut EPA plan for 'Waters of U.S.'

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2014 - Defying a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would prohibit the EPA from implementing a proposed rule aimed at clarifying which waters of the U.S. are under its jurisdiction as part of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Before the 262-152 vote, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, took to the House floor and described the EPA proposal as an unprecedented land grab “based on a desire to put a political agenda over the rights of property owners.” He and other Republicans argued that the proposed rule would place a heavy and unneeded regulatory burden on farmers, ranchers, miners, builders and other developers. Major agricultural groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association have made the same arguments.

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Rep. Steve Southerland, the sponsor of H.R.5078, said the measure provides a “safeguard against the federal government's overreach.”  His bill, dubbed the “Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014,” would also require the EPA to consult with state and local officials for a regulatory proposal that would identify the scope of waters covered and not covered under CWA.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with all but one Republican supporting the bill. One of the 35 Democrats who said “yea” was Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, who said the proposed rule demonstrates the EPA “does not seem to understand the real-world effects these regulations have on farmers.” Thirteen of the 21 Agriculture Committee Democrats voted for the bill.

Following Peterson on the House floor was Oklahoman Frank Lucas, the Republican chairman of the committee, who said the EPA proposal was an “underhanded way to harm agriculture” and a threat to the country's food security.

Leading the opposition to the bill was Rep. Alsee Hastings, D-Fla., who criticized his colleagues across the aisle for wasting time on legislation that “isn't going to go anywhere” in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, agreed that H.R. 5078 would have little effect. Speaking to a gathering of the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington earlier in the day, Roberts said there are hundreds of bills that “gather dust” on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and he doesn't expect this bill to be any different.

The White House yesterday also issued a policy statement that said President Obama's top advisers would recommend a veto if the bill were to be approved by Congress.

The EPA's proposed rule is “grounded in science” and responsive to calls from Congress, industry and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House said in a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP). The EPA's rulemaking, it said, “is essential to ensure clean water for future generations and reduce regulatory uncertainty.”

“If the President were presented with the H.R. 5078, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill,” the statement said.

Probably the most dramatic speech on the House floor came from Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who held up a glass jar filled with what she said was poisonous green algae scooped from Lake Erie, partly the result of uncontrolled agricultural runoff. The contamination left about 400,000 people in parts of northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan without clean tap water for two days in August.

“Shame on you,” Kaptur said, gesturing toward her Republican colleagues, who she said were pushing a bill that was an “embarrassment” to the United States and would “take America backward” in the campaign for clean water.

Several outdoor groups held a conference call Tuesday morning in a futile bid to get the House to reject H.R. 5078, Whit Fosburgh, president of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said the EPA's rule is “very modest,” and that if stakeholders from agriculture or other industries have problems with the proposal, “there is comment period going on right now and they can have their voices heard and have [the rule] changed for the better.” The extended comment period expires on Oct. 20. The other groups were the American Fly Fishing Trade Association and the National Wildlife Federation.

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