EPA waters rule would 'drown' small businesses in regs, GOP says

House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves is warning that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to regulate smaller bodies of water like streams and ponds would “drown” small businesses in new rules.

“This rule threatens to drown small businesses in unnecessary regulatory requirements,” Graves said during a hearing Thursday. “For that reason, I hope the EPA and (Army Corps of Engineers) will withdraw the rule.”

The House Small Business Committee held the first hearing to examine the EPA's proposed “Waters of the United States” rule on Thursday. 

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But Democrats say the rule is an important step toward protecting the environment. 

“Small business interests must be balanced against our desire to protect the environment,” ranking member Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said during the hearing.

The EPA already regulates larger bodies of water under the Clean Water Act. The agency proposed the waters rule last month in an effort to expand federal oversight to smaller bodies of water that have previously gone unregulated.

Critics say the rule would harm farmers and ranchers who rely on access to local water sources.

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) called it the biggest “water grab” by the EPA in the history of the United States. 

“Do you have a sense that it's no longer your land, no longer your property, no longer your water, it's owned by the federal government?” Tipton asked during the hearing.

Last week, Graves and more than a dozen other Republicans on the committee sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy warning of the potential impact the rule would have on small businesses such as farmers and ranchers. 

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

The waters rule has drawn criticism from a number of Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both from Arizona. 

“Unfortunately, the current EPA proposal dramatically expands federal jurisdiction and will likely yield only the next step in an unnecessarily iterative process and create significant regulatory uncertainty,” the senators wrote in a letter to McCarthy earlier this month.