House votes to limit EPA's say over state water standards

Some level of Democratic support was expected after a few Democrats from coal-producing states rose during Wednesday's debate to speak in favor of the bill. Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) all agreed with the Republican proposal to limit the EPA's authority over states that they said creates business uncertainty and limits economic growth.

"The result has been the creation of an atmosphere of worry, of distrust and of bitterness," Rahall said of the EPA's overreach. "The agency may claim that it is only following the law, and 'assisting' the states, but the reality is that the agency is strong-arming the states."

Democrats offered several substantive amendments to scale back the scope of the bill, but each of these were turned away. One amendment to essentially gut the entire bill, from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), was rejected 167-254.

Under the bill, the EPA would be prohibited from issuing new water-quality standards for a given pollutant if the EPA has already approved a state water-quality standard for the pollutant, unless the state agrees with the EPA.

It also says the EPA cannot supersede a state's determination that a discharge into the environment will comply with applicable environmental standards. If the EPA has approved a state program under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, the EPA cannot withdraw this approval simply because it and the state disagree.

Also under the bill, the EPA could not block states from listing an area as a disposal site if the state sees it as an appropriate site.

With House passage, the bill is expected to go no where in the Senate. And even if it could be approved in that body, the Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill.

"H.R. 2018 would roll back the key provisions of the CWA [Clean Water Act] that have been the underpinning of 40 years of progress in making the Nation's waters

fishable, swimmable, and drinkable," a July 12 Statement of Administration Policy said. "H.R. 2018 could limit efforts to safeguard communities by removing the Federal Government's authority to take action when State water quality standards are not protective of public health."