WASHINGTON, April 21, 2016 - Senate Democrats again successfully protected the Obama administration’s embattled Clean Water Act rule, defeating a GOP attempt to stop the measure the measure from being implemented should it survive court challenges. 

A 56-42 vote on an amendment to block the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule was short of the 60 needed for adoption to a fiscal 2017 funding bill for the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Four Democrats voted for the amendment, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. One Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against the amendment, sponsored by North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven.

The White House had threatened to veto the entire Energy-Water spending bill if the anti-WOTUS amendment were approved. 

Hoeven told Agri-Pulse before the vote that he plans to try to attach the amendment to the Interior-Environment bill, which funds EPA, when it is considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

The rule, which was finalized nearly a year ago in response to Supreme Court rulings, defines what wetlands, streams and ditches are regulated under the water pollution law because they have a “significant nexus” to navigable waters, which are the law’s primary focus. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., argued that lawmakers should let the court challenges to the rule to run their course. “I  strongly believe we should let the courts decide whether the executive branch has overreached in its interpretation of a federal statute,” she said.  

The vote came the same day that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to grant rehearing of its earlier opinion regarding where the dispute should be adjudicated. Both industry and environmental groups had wanted the court to kick the matter to the district courts, but in a one-page order, the appeals court declined numerous petitions for en banc rehearing, which would mean all of the court's judges would reconsider the case. No judge asked for a vote on the en banc rehearing requests.

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The 6th Circuit issued a nationwide stay of the rule in October, saying that 18 states involved in one lawsuit against the rule were likely to win their case. A North Dakota federal judge had previously put the rule on hold in 13 other states.

Hoeven argued that the court decisions made the case for congressional intervention. “We have to stand up on this one when an agency overreaches and takes statutory authority that we have not provided,” he said. 

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said the administration “wants to define navigable waters as all waters basically.”  

As long as Obama is in the White House, there is little chance Republicans can kill the rule. Obama in January vetoed a congressional resolution of disapproval, and Senate Democrats last November blocked legislation that would have forced the administration to rewrite the rule.