House spending bill targets EPA’s water jurisdiction rule

House Republicans’ proposal to fund energy and water programs for fiscal 2015 would block funding for the Army Corps of Engineers to work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to redefine the federal government’s jurisdiction over water pollution.

The $34 billion bill unveiled Monday prohibits the Army Corps from using any funds to “develop, adopt, implement, administer or enforce any change to the … definition of waters under the jurisdiction of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.”

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The EPA and the Army Corps proposed the “waters of the United States” rule in March, saying it would clarify their jurisdiction. The agencies oversee water pollution permits together.

Hundreds of lawmakers and a wide swath of business interests have come out against the proposed rule, calling it a power grab. They say it dramatically increases the federal government’s jurisdiction and would give the agencies power over land that does not carry streams or other bodies of water, but is occasionally wet.

EPA gets its funding from a separate bill that the House has not yet released, so the Monday bill would only defund the Army Corps’ work on the proposed rule.

When EPA proposed the rule, chief Gina McCarthy said its purpose was to clarify the agency’s power after two court decisions that called into question its authority.

“This rule does not expand the Clean Water Act,” McCarthy said.

EPA has sought to allay concerns about the rule, particularly those from agriculture groups who have said it would clamp down on long-standing farming practices.

“EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 56 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements,” the agency told farmers. “Any agriculture activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.”