Senate votes to kill EPA’s water rule

California, Water
Getty Images

The Senate approved a bill Wednesday to block the Obama administration’s new regulation setting federal authority over small waterways.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) water rule passed on a 53-44 vote. Three Democrats joined every Republican except Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense The Trail 2016: Words matter Lobbyists bolting Trump convention early MORE (R-Maine) in advancing the bill.

The resolution would prevent the implementation of the water rule, but it’s ultimately unlikely to take effect, given opposition from President Obama and the GOP’s inability to secure a veto-proof majority.

But Republicans said the resolution would put their opposition to Obama’s environmental regulations squarely in the president’s hands.

“My legislation is the necessary next step in pushing back against this blatant power grab by the EPA,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the resolution’s sponsor, said in a floor speech Wednesday.

“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.”

Republicans have long opposed the EPA’s water rule, which asserts federal regulatory authority over small bodies of water such as wetlands and some ponds.

Its opponents argue the rule gives the federal government too much power. Democrats from rural states have also joined the effort, warning the rule will have a negative affect on agriculture and energy development.

Wednesday’s vote came after Republicans failed to advance a bill from Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGoonies, Pokemon and ‘transsexual shake’ speak to raucous scene at convention GOP passes rules vote over outcry from Trump opponents Overnight Healthcare: Feds defend ObamaCare's affordability MORE (R-Wyo.) that would undo the water rule and send it back the EPA with instructions for a re-write.

CRA resolutions don’t require a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster, giving Republicans an opportunity to pass a bill undoing the rule over the objection of Democrats.

“Most Democrats chose an ideological power grab over sensible clean water rules yesterday," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) said on Wednesday. 

“This regulation feels a lot like the latest in a sustained Obama administration regulatory assault on their families. Well, the Senate is going to pursue another avenue today to protect the middle class from this unfair regulatory attack.”

The White House defended the rule, issuing a veto threat against the resolution on Tuesday, saying it would “nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”

“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,” officials wrote in a Statement of Administration Policy.

The water rule faces more challenges than just the CRA. Thirty-one states and multiple industry groups have challenged the legality of the rule, and a federal court blocked its implementation last month.

Republicans said the stay order drives home their concerns over the rule.

“We’ve got a rule that two courts have already said is illegal. It will be overturned,” Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeFeds withdraw lesser prairie-chicken protections A GMO labeling law that doesn’t require English? No thanks! Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (R-Okla.) said in a floor speech.

“We don’t have to stand for this. We don’t have to endure years of confusion before the courts act.”

Jordain Carney contributed.