House votes to kill WOTUS rule

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 12, 2015 - The House voted to kill the Obama administration's proposed Clean Water Act rule, but the margin was far short of the two-thirds support that would be needed to override a likely presidential veto.

The 261-155 vote served to put members on record on the rule, which is under final review at the Office of Management and Budget. A two-thirds majority would have required 278 “yes” votes.

Just 24 Democrats voted for the bill (HR 1732) that would require the administration to develop an alternative rule in consultation with state and local governments, which have been broadly critical of the proposal.

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companion measure was introduced in the Senate last month. The Environment and Public Works Committee has set a hearing on the measure (S 1140) next Tuesday.

The House approved a similar bill262-152, last fall with the support of 35 Democrats.

The rule is supposed to clarify what streams, ponds, wetlands, ditches and other features are regulated under the law as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).

Administration officials say they've revised the definitions in the proposed rule to address an array of concerns expressed by farm groups and other interests. However, Republicans argued that if the rule's changes were significant enough to satisfy opponents the administration would have proposed an entirely new version. 

"This is a taking of private property," said Rep. Garrett Graves, R-La. "It's people's homes. It's people's farms, It's people's small businesses." 

Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., said Republicans were trying to stop the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers “from doing their jobs. … No new rules and no clean water, what a shame.”

In addition to trying to kill the WOTUS rule outright, Republicans also have started attaching provisions to fiscal 2016 appropriations bills that would prevent implementation of the rule starting Oct. 1.

The House's fiscal 2016 funding bill (HR 2028) for the Army Corps of Engineers passed the House 240-177 on May 1 with such a provision. But only 10 Democrats voted for the measure, leaving it well short of a veto-proof majority.

Farm and rural groups commended the action.

“Members of the House today sent a strong, bipartisan message that the flawed Waters of the U.S. Rule is unacceptable and should be scrapped,” noted American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “Furthermore, it was refreshing to see members of Congress order regulators back to the drawing board, with an admonition to listen to the very real concerns of people who would have their farm fields and ditches regulated in the same manner as navigable streams.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) CEO Jo Ann Emerson also spoke in support of the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015.

“Electric cooperatives maintain more than 2.5 million miles of distribution power lines that cover 75 percent of our country's landmass. The proposed WOTUS rule will dramatically expand the Corps' and EPA's regulatory reach, making it more difficult to maintain the electric transmission and distribution network,” said Emerson. “The current proposal would pile on yet more bureaucracy and red tape for everyday maintenance tasks. Electric co-ops support H.R. 1732 and ask the EPA and Corps to withdraw the proposal and work with affected organizations and individuals to ensure a reasonable outcome that balances environmental protection and costs."

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