Congress says stop WOTUS
Following up a November Senate vote, the House last week approved a joint resolution disapproving of the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule and canceling its “force and effect.”
The legislation now heads to the President for his signature or veto. The White House threatened to veto the measure after the Senate’s November approval. The House would need 290 votes to override a presidential veto, the Senate would need 67.
In a strongly Republican vote, the measure passed 253-166 on Jan. 13. Twelve Democrats voted in favor, and one Republican, Chris Smith of New Jersey voted against the measure. Timothy Walz and Collin Peterson, both Minnesota Democrats were on the supporting side, as were two California Democrats.
The Senate had approved the resolution Nov. 4, in a 53-44 vote that included three “yes” Democrat votes. North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, an Indiana Congressman and a West Virginia Congressman bucked the Democrat party line to support the measure. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine was the lone “no” vote from the Republican party.
If Wednesday’s legislation is enacted, the controversial rule expanding EPA jurisdiction to small ditches, prairie potholes and even seasonally wet areas will have no force or effect, said South Dakota Republican Congresswoman Kristi Noem in a news release.
“As written, the Waters of the U.S. rule could become one of the largest federal land grabs in U.S. history,” said Noem. “Everyday tasks, like spraying your lawn for mosquitos or your crops for disease, could now become federally regulated activities that carry fines worth upwards of $30,000 if a farmer or homeowner is found in violation. I’m proud Congress has moved this legislation forward. I strongly urge the President to understand the burden this regulation puts on families and sign our legislation to withdraw it.”
The Environmental Protection Agency and Corp of Engineers say that the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. or WOTUS rule, “ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry.”
The proposed rule was created in response to requests from members of congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists and the public, according to the EPA website. Under the existing rule, permits took years to be granted and no one was completely sure when a permit was required.
According to a fact sheet, “The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule says that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark – to warrant protection.”
But ag groups and others say the rule is a striking example of government overreach, giving a federal agency too much control over every stream, irrigation ditch and pond across the country.
EPA representatives told Wyoming landowner Andy Johnson who dammed Six Mile Creek, after obtaining permits and approval from the state, that he was in violation of the Clean Water Rule. Johnson has become a prime example for ag groups and property rights advocates who say the EPA’s rule gives the EPA jurisdiction over nearly all water across the country. He sued the federal government last fall, asking a judge to declare his pond legal and waive accumulating fines of as much as $16 million.
Johnson said the dam has provided an improvement to the habitat and aesthetics, as well as the water quality. “Our water test came back that our water is actually 41 times cleaner than the so-called affected navigable water, which is 100 miles from me,” Johnson said.
In his testimony on the House floor, Nebraska Congressman Adrian Smith told of a situation in his home state that worries him. A relatively highly populated community in Douglas County, home to about 500,000 people, has been affected.
“In 2005, the county began the process of submitting the proper environmental permit applications needed to extend a section of road about one mile. The project was designated as having the lowest level of environmental impact,” said the Republican.
“However, construction is not slated to begin until at least 2019. Why the delay?
“There is a small ditch which runs adjacent to the proposed project. Within the ditch there is a small rut about six to eight inches wide and no more than an inch deep. It has no ordinary high water mark and there are no wetland plants growing in the ditch. However, the Corps declared this ditch a water of the United States, costing the county thousands of dollars and numerous years.
“This was never the intent of Congress when the Clean Water Act was passed.”
In a news release, Smith said the House vote sends a strong message to the administration about Americans’ opposition to this abuse of executive power. “When the Obama administration pushed forward with WOTUS in defiance of a court-ordered stay, I introduced this resolution of disapproval in the House on behalf of all farmers, landowners, and local officials frustrated by the administration’s refusal to acknowledge their concerns. Following the President’s comments in his State of the Union address about the need to cut red tape, I hope he will listen to the American people and do away with this dangerous rule which exceeds the EPA’s statutory authority.”