WASHINGTON, May 27, 2015 – With the Obama administration set to release its final WOTUS rule any day, the pressure is building on Republicans to block the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from implementing the new definitions for what streams, ditches, ponds and wetlands can be regulated as “waters of the United States.” Republicans are moving standalone bills to kill the rule outright while also pursuing appropriations language that would prevent the administration from implementing the rule for fiscal 2016.

The strategy isn’t proving easy to carry out. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., on May 21 offered an amendment to the Energy and Water appropriations bill to block the rule. “For farmers and ranchers this is a huge problem. Essentially, the EPA has gone beyond the statutory authority that it has,” Hoeven said.

But Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Appropriations energy subcommittee, said the amendment would threaten passage of the spending bill, which funds the Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Energy.

The Tennessee Republican noted that the House-passed version of the bill already contains the anti-WOTUS language and that the provision also could be added to the Interior-Environment bill, which funds EPA. 

Democrats on the committee argued that lawmakers should wait and see the final rule before addressing it legislatively. The rule is in final review at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“The final rule should be out shortly. I hope we can wait and give it a fair reading,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calling the WOTUS rule an “extraordinarily hot and difficult issue.”

The chairwoman of the Senate Interior-Environment subcommittee, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters that she expects to include a WOTUS rider in the bill that funds the EPA. However, it has been several years since Congress has been able to move an Interior-Environment spending bill because of the raft of policy riders that Republicans have tried to add.

And this year, Republicans will be trying to use the bill to block the administration’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations on power plants as well as the WOTUS rule and other issues. WOTUS could be “the easy one” among those issues, Murkowski said. 

The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jim Inhofe, told Agri-Pulse that he believed a standalone bill (S 1140) that would kill the WOTUS rule could probably get as many 60 votes on the floor, enough to overcome a Democratic filibuster. But he was less confident the bill could get the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a presidential veto. 

The House passed its version of the bill (HR 1732) 261-155 earlier this month. Only 24 Democrats supported the bill, leaving it 17 votes short of a veto-proof majority. 

The House’s Energy and Water bill (HR 2028), which contains the WOTUS rider, also lacked a two-thirds majority.

That bill isn’t necessarily going to reach President Obama by itself anyway. There’s a good chance that a number of individual spending measures will once again be rolled into an omnibus bill this fall. Hoeven expresses confidence that the WOTUS rider would be in that legislation, one way or the other.


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