WASHINGTON, April 29, 2015 – The battle over the Obama administration’s attempt to re-define the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act sharpened this week with a pair of veto threats from the White House.

The House is debating an Army Corps of Engineers spending bill (HR 2028) that includes a provision to block implementation of a rule proposed last year and could vote as soon as Friday on a separate bill (HR1732) that would simply kill the rule. The latter bill also would require the administration to propose a substitute after consulting with state and local officials.

That bill “would sow more confusion and invite more conflict at a time when our communities and businesses need clarity and certainty around clean water regulation,” according to a White House statement of administration policy issued Wednesday.

Seven senators, led by the chairmen of the Environment and Public Works, and Agriculture committees, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Pat Roberts of Kansas, on Thursday will announce introduction of a similar bill. The group includes two Democrats, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

The rule to define what streams, ponds, ditches and other features will be regulated as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) is now under final review at the Office of Management and Budget. Administration officials have promised lawmakers that a number of unspecified revisions have been made to address concerns raised about definitions in the rule.

The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers “have sought the views of and listened carefully to the public throughout the extensive public engagement process for this rule.  It would be imprudent to dismiss the years of work that have already occurred and no value would be added,” the White House statement said.

[Watching for news on the Clean Water Act? Find it on Agri-Pulse. Sign up for a four-week free trial subscription.] 

Because of the veto threat, the standalone WOTUS bills have little chance of becoming law, so congressional Republicans also will be using the fiscal 2016 appropriations bills to stop implementation of the rule. Vetoing an appropriations bill could be tougher politically for President Obama, given that it could risk shutting down government agencies. 

The Energy and Water appropriations bill on the House floor this week is the first of the spending measures to include the WOTUS provision. On Tuesday, the White House threatened a veto of that bill, citing the provision as one reason.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the chairman of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee that writes the EPA’s budget, lectured agency chief Gina McCarthy Wednesday on concerns being raised across the country about the potential economic impact of the agency’s regulatory agenda, including the WOTUS rule.

“Listen to the people across the country on these issues that are so important to them. … We want to work with you. You know the pressures that are on us to stop it cold in its tracks,” Murkowski said.  

Murkowski, R-Alaska, told McCarthy that the WOTUS rule would “substantially increase” her agency’s “regulatory reach.”

McCarthy said the administration was using the “best science available” to ensure “we’re protecting only what needs to be protected.”