Senate measure to stop water rule advances

The Senate voted Tuesday to advance a measure to block the Obama administration’s new regulation asserting federal authority over small waterways.

The vote came just over an hour after Senate Democrats blocked a procedural vote on a related bill from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to go back to the drawing board and re-write its Waters of the United States rule.

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The successful vote, passed 55-43, moved forward a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a rarely used tactic that allows for a simple majority to disapprove of any regulation without a 60-vote threshold.

The vote was almost along party lines, with Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voting with all Republicans present except Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to proceed.

Republicans had put great efforts into Barrasso’s bill, which would have given the EPA specific instructions to rewrite the rule with certain exemptions and consultations to protect stakeholders.

But with that bill’s failure, Ernst said the CRA is necessary to stop the rule.

Republicans have long complained that the rule, made final in May, goes too far in expanding federal authority over small waterways, and in fact puts the government in charge of large swaths of state and private land.

“My legislation is the necessary next step in pushing back against this blatant power grab by the EPA,” Ernst said on the Senate floor. “We will send this to the president, where he will be forced to decide between the livelihood of our rural communities nationwide and his unchecked federal agency.”

Under the CRA, Ernst’s resolution still requires House approval and President Obama’s signature to block the rule, something that is all but impossible.

The White House said it strongly opposes Ernst’s resolution and defended the rule.

“The agencies' rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,” it wrote Tuesday.

“If enacted, S.J.Res. 22 would nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”

In some ways, the CRA resolution goes further than Barrasso’s bill. It would prevent the EPA from ever writing “a new rule that is substantially the same” as the one that is blocked.