WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2015 – Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts is pledging to work with the Obama administration to try to resolve farmers’ concerns about a proposed rule re-defining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

“I would like to work it out with the EPA, if we could, instead of legislation,” the Kansas Republican told reporters after a brief organizational session of the committee.

EPA has planned to finalize the rule this spring and recently released a scientific study on which it is based. Roberts said he expected to meet at some point with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on the issue. The proposal defines what areas are regulated under the anti-pollution law as "waters of the United States,"  or WOTUS.

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Critics of the rule were unable to get a provision in the fiscal 2015 omnibus spending bill to block the agency from finalizing it, and the options for killing it this year are limited, too, because of the possibility of a Democratic filibuster and presidential veto.The omnibus bill did, however, kill a related interpretive rule that detailed Section 404 permitting exemptions for agriculture.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have scheduled a joint hearing on the issue next Wednesday, and Roberts said his panel would have a hearing.

Roberts indicated that he has asked Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., to spare agriculture programs in the budget resolution his panel is due to write in coming weeks.  Asked what he told Enzi, Roberts said, 'Be fair, we’ve already gave at the store,'" a reference to the cuts made by the 2014 farm bill.
Roberts said his committee's other priorities this year would include reauthorizing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and child nutrition programs. Asked if his committee would address GMO labeling, Roberts said only that it was an "important issue" and that committee members had strong feelings about it. The biotech and food industries are expected to renew a push for legislation that would preempt state GMO labeling laws.