Senators introduce bill that would restrict WOTUS
A bipartisan coalition of senators from rural states last week introduced a bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw and rewrite the regulation that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calls the Clean Water Rule, but that the senators still call the Waters of the United States rule.
The EPA has already sent the rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget and it could be released at any time. The senators did not respond directly to a question about how their legislation, which is just in the beginning stages, would affect the rule if it has already been issued.
The senators’ bill, S. 1140 the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, would direct EPA to write a new rule by Dec. 31, 2016, but not include “things such as isolated ponds, ditches, agriculture water, storm water, groundwater, floodwater, municipal water supply systems, wastewater management systems, and streams without enough flow to carry pollutants to navigable waters.”
Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo., is the primary author of the bill, with the backing of Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., whose committee has jurisdiction over EPA.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who held a hearing on WOTUS, is also a sponsor.
At a news conference, Inhofe said the issue goes back to the use of the word “navigable” and the fact that states have always had jurisdiction over water except for navigable water, which falls under federal jurisdiction. Inhofe noted that there had been attempts to remove the word “navigable” from regulation.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said that in North Dakota, “there is not one single regulation that has caused more concern than this one. There is incredible uncertainty out there.”
The Supreme Court has told EPA that some of its regulations were too vague, but Heitkamp said the court “gave very little direction to EPA.”
This bill provides direction, Heitkamp said, but she also noted that other senators may wish to amend it.
Barasso did not provide a schedule, but noted that the Senate is trying to get back to regular order, which means subcommittee and committee consideration.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, noting that two thirds of the wetlands in the United States are in his state, said the regulation would affect miners as well as farmers and ranchers.
The senators said repeatedly that EPA has not consulted with stakeholders, although McCarthy has said the agency has taken into consideration thousands of comments in writing the final rule.
Roberts said that the rule’s statement that normal farming practices are allowed is followed by 88 pages of regulation.
Other co-sponsors include Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also held a joint hearing on the topic in February, and a bill has been introduced in the House calling on EPA to withdraw the rule.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers immediately issued statements in support of the senators’ efforts.