Lawmakers: EPA cutting corners on water rule

A group of House Republicans accused the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday of shirking its responsibility to assess the economic impacts of proposed regulations that would expand federal oversight of smaller bodies of water.

GOP members of the House Small Business Committee, led by Chairman Sam Graves (Mo.), sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, urging the agency to rescind the regulation until more analysis is completed.

“We are concerned that the proposed rule could have a significant economic impact on small businesses, yet the agencies have not assessed those consequences as required by [the law],” Graves stated in the letter.

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The lawmakers also say the “Waters of the United States” rule proposal, unveiled last month, lacks clarity about what additional bodies of water would be subject to EPA regulation once it is finalized. 

The letter, signed by more than a dozen additional Republicans, is also addressed to Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was also involved in the rule’s drafting.

The administration is moving to expand its jurisdiction under authority of the Clean Water Act.

But the lawmakers accuse the agencies of failing to fulfill their obligations under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), which generally requires agencies to convene small-business advocacy review panels before proposing a rule.

The RFA is meant to take into consideration the economic impacts of rules on small businesses. The lawmakers contend that many farmers and companies that rely on access to local water sources could be hurt by the proposal.

"For example, permits may be required for activities such as removing debris and vegetation from a ditch, applying pesticides, building a fence or pond, or discharging pollutants,” Graves wrote. “Permitting can be a costly and time-consuming process that requires small businesses to hire attorneys and environmental consultants.”

If the agencies decline to withdraw the rule, the lawmakers are asking for a 90-day extension of the proposal’s public comment period to give affected parties more time to weigh in.

The letter is the latest call from congressional Republicans for the administration to pull back the regulation.

A letter sent this month from GOP Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake followed a similar missive signed by more than 200 House members.