Lawmakers target EPA’s water regs

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed two bills Wednesday aimed at undercutting the way the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates water pollution.

One of the bills would give states more authority over water pollution permits and state permitting rules, while the other would block the agency’s joint proposal with the Army Corps of Engineers to redefine which waters it has jurisdiction over per the Clean Water Act.

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“When it enacted the Clean Water Act, Congress established a system of cooperative federalism by making the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the states partners in regulating the nation’s water quality and allocated the primary responsibilities for dealing with the day-to-day water pollution control matters to the states,” Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, said about the bill to shift more permitting authority to states.

But Gibbs said the EPA “is inserting itself into the implementation of state water quality permitting standards and is second-guessing states on permitting decisions in how standards are to be implemented, and even second-guessing EPA’s own prior determinations that a state’s standards meet the minimum requirements under the Clean Water Act.”

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) sponsored the bill in an effort to help the coal industry, whose mines often need permits to dump waste materials.

“This act addresses many of the obstacles that the EPA has placed in the way of our coal production in Appalachia,” she said. “The EPA has a clear-cut role, and has for years, in making sure that these permits go forward. This bill does not in any way take that right or that ability from EPA away.”

The panel also sought to overturn the EPA’s highly controversial Waters of the United States rule, proposed earlier this year to clarify its jurisdiction over streams, lakes and other bodies of water, after a series of Supreme Court rulings that called the agency’s authority into question.

Earlier Wednesday, the panel passed another bill aimed at the EPA’s water rules. That bill would restrict the timeframe in which the EPA can veto permits to dump dredge or fill materials into waterways and wetlands. Republicans said stopping the rule would restore a longstanding federal-state partnership over water pollution issues.

“The EPA and the Corps of Engineers are engaged in a brazen effort to upset a successful federal-state partnership that has regulated America’s waters for more than 40 years,” said Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.). “Forty years of progress is now being turned onto its head under the guise of clarifying the scope of federal jurisdiction.”

Democrats defended the EPA.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) called the permitting bill “a wholesale rewrite of the underlying permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act.”

Bishop said that the bill would encourage a state “race to the bottom” in terms of water regulation, in which states would roll back rules to attract more industry while allowing more pollution.

“As our nation’s history has shown, when individual states get to compete against one another for the lowest water quality protections, rivers catch fire, lakes die and the overall quality of our economic and ecological health suffer,” he said.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) said the bill to stop the water jurisdiction rule “would have a drastic impact on the health of our water supply.”

She and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) recognized, however, that the EPA’s proposal could have been more clear and answered more questions.

“They keep telling us what it doesn’t do, and if you’ve written a rule and you have to keep telling people what it doesn’t do, then maybe your rule needs a lot of work. And that’s why we have a public comment period,” DeFazio said. 

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