House passes bill to stop EPA water rule

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The House voted Tuesday to overturn an Obama administration rule aimed at redefining which streams, ponds, wetlands and other waterways are under its jurisdiction.

Passage of the legislation, which would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Secretary of the Army to withdraw the proposed regulation within 30 days and craft a new one, fell largely along party lines by a vote of 261-155.

The “waters of the United States” rule, which the EPA plans to make final this spring, has led to charges the administration is dramatically expanding its powers over water and would regulate puddles, decorative ponds, ditches and dry creekbeds.

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The fiercest opposition to the EPA’s water rule has come from agriculture, ranchers, developers and other industries that use large swaths of land.

They say the rule would put significant parts of their land under federal jurisdiction and make it subject to the Clean Water Act, potentially requiring permits for routine activities like filling in ditches or spraying fertilizer, and exposing them to litigation.

The American Farm Bureau Federation told lawmakers Rep. Bill Shuster's (R-Pa.) bill is the sensible approach to stopping a rule that needs far more work.

"Additional time, outreach, oversight and transparency are critical for an improved final rule that provides clarity, respects the concerns of all affected parties, and more accurately reflects the will of Congress," Bob Stallman, the group’s president, wrote to House members.

At issue is which waterways are subject to federal oversight under the Clean Water Act, which is meant to protect the country’s navigable waters from pollution.

Through regulations and conflicting Supreme Court cases, the EPA says it has become unclear how far upstream regulators can go to protect the water downstream.

Republicans warned that the rule could subject trivial bodies of water to federal regulation.

"This rule in its current form is a massive overreach of EPA authority," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas).

To the EPA, the new rule is necessary to clear up confusion and to definitively say which minor waterways, like wetlands and tributaries, can be regulated.

Democrats maintained the proposed rule would simply provide clarification for the federal government and localities.

"This bill guts all that work and requires the EPA and the Corps essentially to start over," said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

It has not mapped out which water bodies would or would not be covered, but it has estimated its jurisdiction would only expand by about 3 percent.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto the bill, which passed last year in a similar form.

The White House said Shuster’s bill would “derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the [Clean Water Act], hamstring future regulatory efforts, and deny businesses and communities the regulator certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.” 

The Senate is proceeding on a different path to stop the EPA’s rule.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Tribes open new front in fight over pipelines Pipeline delay stirs anger, but not yet action, on Capitol Hill MORE (R-Wyo.) introduced a bill with bipartisan support last month that would overturn the regulation, but require the EPA to write a new one, and set out specific parameters for the new attempt.