Lawmakers spar over EPA's water rule

Lawmakers spar over EPA's water rule

Lawmakers sparred Wednesday over Environmental Protection Agency’s "waters of the United States" rule, with Republicans blasting the proposal as overreach and their Democratic counterparts accusing them of hyperbole.

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Dems expand 2018 message to ‘draining the swamp’ MORE (D-R.I.) said it’s the rule Republicans love to use as an example of “overzealous regulation.”

The rule, which would strengthen EPA’s authority over minor water bodies like wetlands, streams and ponds, has been labeled by opponents as a massive federal land grab that would give EPA the ability to regulate ditches, puddles and soggy ground.

But Whitehouse said these attacks are based more on conspiracy theory than factual accuracy.  He read remarks from a sampling of Republican colleagues who called the rule a threat to the economy, way of life and said it could jeopardize fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Whitehouse said the rule excludes the vast majority of roadside ditches and ditches on agricultural lands, eliminates EPA’s jurisdiction over artificially irrigated areas, fully preserves permitting exemptions for farming, forestry and ranching activities, and clearly states that the Clean Water Act does not apply to ground water.

“Mr. Chairman, the only people who think clean streams and rivers are economic hell are deep pocketed polluters and I’m confident that there will be fireworks on the Fourth of July after this rule goes into effect,” he said

But Ellen Steen, general counsel and secretary for the American Farm Bureau Federation and Affiliates, said the EPA has been misleading in its assurances that farmers and ranchers aren’t going to face increased permitting requirements.

“What’s going to be before the court is the text of the rule, the federal register preambles” she said. “And all those documents have been carefully set up to invite, not just allow, but invite the interpretation that land that’s farmed today can be farmed no longer without a federal permit.”

If EPA wants to adopt wide-scale federal permitting for farming activities, Steen said let’s have that discussion.

“Let’s look at the cost, let's look at the impact on the 96 percent of U.S. farmers who are family-owned and operated small businesses,” she said, adding that most of these farmers can’t afford these regulatory burdens.

“EPA has refused to look at those costs and impacts, denying they exist and going forward with a rule they know will have that result and that’s infuriating.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHouse easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump Senate panel clears bill to bolster probes of foreign investment deals McConnell tells senators he might scrap August recess MORE (R-Texas) said regulatory agencies have increasingly become the lawmaker, the judg and the jury andwhen it comes to enacting regulations.
 
“I particularly am troubled by the decisions of the courts, which have shown deference to the legal interpretation of the agencies’ own jurisdiction and authority,” he said. “That is a power I believe is reserved to the judiciary and not to the agency.”