House votes to overturn Obama water rule
By Timothy Cama – 01/13/16 11:58 AM EST
Washington, D.C. – The House voted Wednesday to overturn a contentious rule from the Environmental Protection Agency that asserts federal authority over small waterways.
The House passed the resolution 253-166 Wednesday, with 12 Democrats supporting it. Rep. Chris Smith (N.J.) was the only Republican to vote against the measure.
The measure is now headed to President Obama’s desk; he has promised to veto it.The resolution, from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), which the Senate passed in November, aims to block enforcement of the EPA regulation known as the Clean Water Rule or “waters of the United States” and prevent any similar rules from being issued in the future.
Republicans are challenging the rule under the Congressional Review Act, which gives lawmakers the ability to vote to block regulations in the first 60 legislative days after they are issued.
The GOP says the administration is seeking to assert federal control over puddles, ditches, areas that are occasionally wet and other large sections of private or state land in violation of the intent of the Clean Water Act.
They say the rule would be disastrous to farmers, developers, landowners and other businesses that would need a federal permit for routine tasks such as digging ditches.
“The federal government shouldn’t be regulating every drop of water,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), whose panel has authority over water policy.
“Just about every wet area in the country is open to federal regulation under this rule,” he added. “The rights of landowners and local governments will be trampled.”
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the rule a “power grab” in a Wednesday op-ed.
“The EPA claims it is only clarifying the law, but Congress never intended the federal government to oversee tiny streams and ponds on private property,” he wrote in the Omaha World-Herald in agriculture-heavy Nebraska.
Democrats warned that repealing the rule would result in continued confusion about which waterways should be regulated on the federal level.
“The question is what, where and how do we protect the waters of the United States?” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The White House agreed and threatened to veto the resolution when the Senate passed it in November.
“The agencies’ rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and
community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,” it wrote.
“If enacted, S.J.Res. 22 would nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”
The Senate originally tried to pass a more comprehensive bill by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that would have repealed the rule and given the EPA specific instructions and a timeline to rewrite it in a way more favorable to conservatives and businesses. But that bill fell short of the needed votes in the Senate.
The Clean Water Rule is not currently being enforced because of a federal court ruling that blocked its implementation while it is being litigated.
The EPA says the regulation is entirely consistent with the Clean Water Act. It was necessary, the agency says, because a pair of Supreme Court rulings left significant waterways with unclear protections, including ones that sometimes lead to sources of drinking water.
But the agency’s opponents, such as farmers and homebuilders, say it’s a broad overreach by the EPA into vast areas that were not covered before. They say that the rule’s wording is so broad that it would add new bureaucracy to, or even prevent, basic tasks such as draining small ponds and constructing basic buildings.
Cristina Marcos contributed.
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