EPA Administrator Michael Regan defended his agency’s budget request and its “waters of the U.S.” rule against Republican criticism in an appearance Wednesday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

While the Supreme Court’s pending Sackett Clean Water Act decision “will have some impact on the rule,” Regan said the rule  is “designed to absorb whatever the Sackett case renders.”

Republicans, including panel ranking member Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, questioned why, with about half the states in the country suing over the WOTUS rule, EPA chose to move forward with writing it.

Regan said, as he has previously, that when he took office, the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule had been vacated by a federal court, necessitating new regulations. In addition, the agency, which wrote the new rule with the Army Corps of Engineers, did not want to have to wait until after the court issued a decision.

“I think we threaded a very good needle” with the rule, he said, noting that it also codifies eight farming-related exemptions from the law.

Ricketts insisted that the CWA, which defines “navigable waters” as “waters of the United States, including the territorial seas,” only covers waters capable of transporting a vessel.

“To me, ‘navigable’ means you can put a boat on it and go someplace,” he said. “And you cannot do that from a pond on a farm. You can't do it for a roadside ditch that is temporary.”

Regan argued the issue is more complicated. “I really wish it was that simple,” he said.

The WOTUS rule reinstates protections for ephemeral streams that had been removed in the Trump rule.

On the issue of year-round E15, Regan said the agency is “excited about moving towards the waiver for 2024,” referring to EPA’s proposal to implement year-round E15 in eight states next summer. As for sales this summer, Regan said the agency will assess requests to waive the volatility requirements “on a case-by-case basis.” 

Rod Snyder, Regan's agricultural adviser, has previously said the agency was considering “all options” for summer 2023 E15 sales.

Regan also defended the agency’s fiscal 2024 request for about $12 billion, a $1.9 billion — or 19% — increase from FY23. He disagreed with Capito’s assertion that the agency will not be able to handle the “enormous amounts of funding” EPA has received in the past year, including an FY23 budget increase and another $41.5 billion through the Inflation Reduction Act.

“It's simply impossible for EPA to absorb and responsibly spent the amount of money that is being requested,” Capito said.

Not surprisingly, Regan disagreed. “If you talk to my staff, they are very grateful for last year's budget, but we are still in need of significant resources,” he said.

“There are some that might suggest that we can't absorb these increases,” he added. “That's a hard message to give to people who are already worked overworked, and working six and seven days a week.”

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