The Biden administration’s “waters of the U.S.” rule that expands the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act officially takes effect Monday despite uncertainty about its future in the courts and continued attacks on the measure on Capitol Hill.

The Senate could vote as soon as this week on a resolution aimed at killing the rule, and EPA Administrator Michael Regan is almost certain to face questions about the issue when he appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday.

Also Monday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will headline the annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit. This year’s conference will focus on issues critical to long-term food security and sustainability. The summit will feature experts debating economic concerns as well as issues affecting beginning farmers, agricultural research, nutrition programs, risk management and other issues.

The new WOTUS rule, released at the end of December to replace a more narrow version finalized near the end of the Trump administration in 2020, gives the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers new discretion to determine what streams or wetlands fall under federal jurisdiction and that will create uncertainty for some landowners.

The Biden administration could very well be forced to revise the rule; the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision soon in a case involving the scope of the agencies’ authority to regulate wetlands.

The practical effect of the WOTUS rule taking effect Monday is limited, because the EPA and Corps of Engineers “are still figuring out how this rule should be implemented with one eye and the other watching to see what SCOTUS will do” in the pending case, a lobbyist who advises farm groups on regulatory issues told Agri-Pulse.

The rule maintains exemptions for agricultural practices while scaling back an exclusion for prior converted cropland that was in the 2020 rule. The new rule also eliminates an automatic exclusion for ephemeral streams, which flow only when it rains enough.

Congressional Republicans are working with farm groups and other business interests to keep lawmakers focused on the issue.

The House voted 227-198 on March 9 to overturn the WOTUS rule under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to initiate the recall of new regulations. However, even if the resolution of disapproval also wins Senate approval, Biden has said he would veto it. The House margin fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

The timing of the Senate vote depends on the availability of senators. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been recovering from a fall.

In an interview with Agri-Pulse last month, Regan described the rule as “very durable” and “very legally sound.” He said the Trump rule failed to protect pocosins, a type of bog, and other important wetlands in his home state of North Carolina.

Also this week, the House Agriculture Committee will continue its examination of farm bill issues with a subcommittee hearing on research programs.

Earlier this month, a broad range of farm groups and scientific organizations appealed to lawmakers to provide $8 billion in mandatory funding for agricultural research programs. The government has long funded ag research largely through annual appropriations bills. Spending levels in those annual spending bills are at the discretion of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, rather than mandated by laws such as the farm bill.

In a March 6 letter to the House and Senate Ag committees, the groups noted that U.S. public spending on ag research has fallen by one-third since 2002 and that China now spends twice what the United States does.

“Without immediate investment in food and agricultural research, we are facing an uncertain future where food and nutrition security is no longer guaranteed. The Farm Bill is our opportunity to secure this critical funding before it's too late,” the letter says.

The Ag committees also are being asked to fund new programs aimed at automating the cultivation and harvest of more fruit, vegetable and tree nut crops as a means to address chronic labor shortages.

Meanwhile, Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, are introducing a bill this week to double the authorized funding level for the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA) at USDA. AgARDA was authorized at $50 million a year by the 2018 farm bill, but appropriators have provided only $2 million. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., introduced the Senate version last week.

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The AgARDA concept is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E), which are aimed at developing breakthrough technologies.

Also this week, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee is holding a roundtable discussion Wednesday on farm bill issues important to American Indians. Their challenges include fractionated land ownership and a lack of commodity program base acres, experts say.

Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):

Monday, March 20

Annual Agri-Pulse Ag and Food Policy Summit, National Press Club.

Tuesday, March 21

9 a.m. — Farm Foundation webinar, “Greening the Fertilizer Industry.”

Wednesday, March 22

9:30 a.m. — American Enterprise Institute forum, “Livestock Regulation and the 2023 Farm Bill,” 1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW.

10 a.m. — Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing with EPA Administrator Michael Regan, 406 Dirksen.

10 a.m. — Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, 124 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. — Senate Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, 124 Dirksen.

2:30 p.m. — Senate Indian Affairs Committee roundtable discussion, “Native Priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill Reauthorization,” 628 Dirksen.

Thursday, March 23

8:30 a.m. — USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

9:30 a.m. — House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Forest Chief Randy Moore, 2008 Rayburn.

10 a.m. — House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on farm bill research programs, 1300 Longworth.

10 a.m. - Senate Finance Committee hearing with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, 215 Dirksen.

Friday, March 24

9 a.m. - House Ways and Means Committee hearing with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, 1100 Longworth.

9 a.m. — USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.

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