House passes bill to halt EPA water rule

The House passed legislation Tuesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing a proposed rule to define its jurisdiction over bodies of water.

Passed 262-152, the bill would prohibit the EPA from using the proposal for any rulemaking regarding the Clean Water Act.

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The rule, proposed in March, sought to clarify which bodies of water, such as wetlands and streams, are subject to agencies' authority under the act. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the rule does not significantly expand the agency's existing authority.

Republicans said the rule would go too far and subject trivial bodies of water to federal regulation. 

"I have heard from many of my constituents that this rule would force them to prove that large mud puddles and ditches on their property are not federally regulated waters," Rep. Lou BarlettaLou BarlettaClinton campaign seeks to shut door on Trump in Pennsylvania Union leaders see no evidence of migration to Donald Trump Trump Jr. huddles with NRA officials, House Republicans MORE (R-Pa.) said. "I support this bill because sometimes, a mud puddle is just a mud puddle."

Democrats largely dismissed the concerns as hyperbole. 

"We have departed from reality," said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. 

DeFazio said that halting implementation of the proposed rule would prevent the EPA from simply clarifying which bodies of water are subject to federal regulation.

"Where do we end up if this cockamamie thing passes the House and becomes law, which it won't?" DeFazio said. "Well, where we end up is back in the earlier era of the 2003 and 2008 guidance."

But some Democrats, particularly those in tough reelection races, broke with their party and said the rule could result in federal overreach. 

"The only certainty that these regulations provide is the sure knowledge that under them, anyone undertaking any activity so much as a ditch in the United States will have to deal with the bureaucracy known as the EPA," said Rep. Nick RahallNick RahallWest Virginia is no longer Clinton country Solution needed: Rail congestion is stifling economic growth Lobbying World MORE (D-W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee and one of the most vulnerable incumbents this cycle.

The legislation includes a provision requiring the EPA administrator and Army Corps of Engineers to develop recommendations for a proposed regulation in consultation with local officials. A final report would be due to Congress within two years.

Before final passage, the House rejected, 170-240, an amendment offered by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) that would prevent enactment of the bill if implementation would harm water quality. 

The White House issued a veto threat against the legislation, saying it “would derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the CWA, hamstring future regulatory efforts, and create significant ambiguity regarding existing regulations and guidance.”

- Timothy Cama contributed.

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