Senators vote to block Obama’s water rule

A Senate committee voted along party lines Wednesday to overturn the Obama administration’s new regulation asserting control over small waterways like streams and wetlands.

The bill, sponsored by 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.), would repeal the waters of the United States rule, also known as the clean water rule, and give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) specific guidelines to re-write it in a way that Republicans find more acceptable.

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The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bill by a vote of 11-9, with only Republicans supporting it.

Republicans complained that the rule released late last month by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act would extend federal control over large swaths of private or state-owned water and land, including puddles, dry creek beds, man-made ponds and many agricultural features.

In fact, the rule the Obama administration wrote is worse than what it proposed last year, and would cover nearly all water in the country, despite promises otherwise Barrasso said.

“This is legislation that will protect our nation’s navigable waterways and the streams and wetlands that help keep our navigable waters clean,” he said, calling his bill “bipartisan, pro-environmental protection, pro-small business legislation.”

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are among the cosponsors of the bill.

“It’s possible to have reasonable regulations to help preserve our waterways while still respecting the difference between state waters and federal waters,” Barrasso said.

If a waterway is regulated, the property owner might have to get federal approval for anything that harms or pollutes it.

While the Clean Water Act is focused on navigable waterways, the federal government has long recognized that some upstream waterways must also be protected.

The bill sets out specific waterways that cannot be regulated, like isolated ponds, and requires the EPA to consult with various state and local governments and small businesses when it rewrites the rule.

Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeFunding bill rejected as shutdown nears Senate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal Shutdown risk grows over Flint MORE (R-Okla.), the committee’s chairman, said farmers in Oklahoma are more concerned about the EPA’s water rule than any other federal policy, since they fear it will subject them to red tape for basic agricultural practices like spraying pesticides or digging ditches.

“This bipartisan legislation would stop the final rule and make the EPA and the Corps of Engineers go back and redo it,” Inhofe said. “This time, they cannot avoid consultation with states and local governments, they will have to do a full economic analysis, including an unfunded mandates analysis, they will have to review the impacts on small businesses and small local government.”

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerFunding bill rejected as shutdown nears Dems demand Flint funding promise 'in writing' from GOP Senate Dems: Add Flint aid to spending deal MORE (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, accused Republicans of sponsoring “a back-door repeal of the Clean Water Act,” since it would remove significant areas that are under the law’s protection.

“Today, we’re considering legislation that would undermine one of our nation’s landmark laws, the Clean Water Act and roll back protections for the American people, their drinking water,” she said.

“When we weaken the Clean Water Act, as this bill will do, we’re putting the lives of our people in danger,” she continued.

Boxer and other Democrats proposed five amendments aimed at preserving parts of the regulation, including protections for drinking water, public health and the costs to states. All the amendments failed along party lines.

Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperOvernight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare Overnight Finance: Trump promises millions of jobs | Obama taps Kasich to sell trade deal | Fed makes monetary policy video game | Trump vs. Ford MORE (D-Del.) voted against the bill, but he applauded some provisions of the bill.

“At the end of the day, some of the things that Sen. Barrasso has called for in his bill deserve support,” he said, pointing to protections for local communities and a mandate that the EPA publish maps on the rule’s reach.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia declined to weigh in on the bill.

But Obama administration officials have vehemently defended the rule and generally criticized attempts to weaken it.

“The only people with reason to oppose the rule are polluters who threaten our clean water,” top Obama adviser Brian Deese said in rolling out the regulation last month.