The “Waters of the U.S.” rule promulgated by the Obama Administration would be repealed in one of two spending bills approved by the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday.
Despite opposition by Democrats, who attempted to remove all of what they called “poison pill” riders, the WOTUS repeal provision remained in the energy and water spending bill that cleared the committee. EPA is already working through the administrative process to rescind the rule and expects to publish a new proposed rule in August, according to the latest semi-annual regulatory agenda.
The committee also approved a spending bill to fund the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration. The bill provides $550 million for rural broadband grants and loans, which is on top of $600 million in the omnibus spending bill approved by Congress in March.
The committee also adopted amendments that would stop USDA from disallowing the use of potatoes in school breakfasts and subject genetically engineered salmon to the GMO labeling standard mandated by a 2016 bill.
But the riders in the bill funding the Army Corps of Engineers provoked the most ire from Democrats.
“The majority knows that many of these riders were stripped out” of the fiscal 2018 omnibus spending bill, said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, ranking member of the energy and water spending subcommittee. “They cannot be included in a bill that requires bipartisan support to pass.”
Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said that the WOTUS rule would expand federal jurisdiction to the point where “it could significantly restrict landowners’ ability to make decisions about their own land.”
“People think that if the federal government does not manage these waters, that they are not being managed,” he said. “The reality is the states are managing them…. Most states are doing a damn good job.”
Kaptur said, however, that “if the states were doing such a great job, one of our Great Lakes, Lake Erie, would not be choking.”
Another provision targeted by Democrats would prevent the removal of any dam unless specifically authorized by Congress. Federal agencies have been considering removing four dams on the lower Snake River in order to help salmon populations.
The bill also would reaffirm language in the Clean Water Act exempting “normal farming practices” from permit requirements.
On the funding side, the bill would allocate $7.28 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers, a $451 million increase from fiscal 2018. That total includes $3.3 billion for navigation projects and studies, “including $1.6 billion in funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and full use of estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, to help advance American competitiveness and export ability,” the subcommittee said.
The agriculture and FDA spending bill also was subject to numerous amendments, including the amendment introduced by Simpson and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, that would stop the USDA from disallowing the use of potatoes in school breakfasts. The boost in spending for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a federal program that seeks to bring grocery stores to “food deserts,” was initially opposed by Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee. But he relented, allowing the $1 million spending hike (doubling the amount already in the bill) to be approved by voice vote. The additional funding would come from the budget for USDA’s Office of Communications.
The committee also approved, over a handful of objections, an amendment that would subject genetically engineered salmon to the GMO disclosure law passed by Congress in 2016, for which USDA has recently proposed regulations.
Rep. David Young, R-Iowa, introduced the amendment, saying it’s necessary in order to prevent consumer confusion. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has been particularly vocal in trying to have FDA label GE salmon, which has yet to be commercialized in the United States.
“Several attempts have been made in the last few years to allow FDA to also label salmon, and that would undermine current law, it would undermine the USDA’s role in labeling, and would cause confusion for consumers,” Young said.
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., mentioned the effort by Murkowski and Sen. Marcia Cantwell, D-Wash., to establish “more robust” disclosure requirements for GE salmon than they would have to meet under the disclosure law.
“Consumers from my region, whether you’re a mom or a professional chef, have said they want to be sure that when they buy a piece of salmon, they’re confident that it’s wild-caught and not frankenfish,” he said, using the pejorative word to describe GE salmon. “Current labeling standards would allow these fish to be labeled with a tiny QR code that provides really zero information on the package.”
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., responded: “I respect my colleagues, but frankenfish? Really?” The amendment passed by voice vote.
Newhouse introduced an amendment responding to an 8th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that found Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program sales data should be made public.
The amendment would prevent the release of SNAP data “that contains information specific to a retail food store, a retail food store location, a person, or other entity.”
In its opinion last week, the appeals court said that the contested data “are nothing more than annual aggregations of SNAP redemptions” and would not “stigmatize” individual stores, as the Food Marketing Institute had argued. The case was brought by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
The committee also added report language that directs Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to work with other federal agencies “to establish a comprehensive online system for agriculture employers to complete the H-2A applications process,” the committee said in a release issued after the bill was approved on a 31-20 vote.
In addition to the boost in rural broadband spending, the bill provides $3.01 billion for agricultural research, $72 million more than the amount for the current fiscal year. It also contains more than $1.45 billion for rural water and waste program loans, and more than $637 million in water and waste grants for drinking water and sanitary waste disposal systems.
The bill would fund the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at $1.04 billion. The bill does not contain a specific amount for activities related to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), but the committee report accompanying the bill said FDA will likely have spent $9.5 billion on food safety since fiscal 2011.
“With this level of funding on the federal side and billions more invested by the private sector, Congress and the American people need to see results in terms of reduced illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths,” the report said. “The committee directs FDA to provide information to the public via reports and on its website as it relates to the link between FSMA activities and performance measures, especially as outcome measures support reductions in foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.”
The bill also continues to provide $3 million in funding for a USDA-FDA effort to educate the public about agricultural biotechnology.
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