May 13, 2015
In yet another attempt to halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule clarifying the scope of its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act, the House passed a bill on May 11 requiring EPA to withdraw the proposed rule and start the process over. The bill passed 261-155, with all voting Republicans in favor of the bill, and joined by 24 Democrats. Looking at votes cast by members of the House Agriculture Committee, all Republican members voted for the bill, but the Democratic members split evenly, with nine voting for the bill and nine voting against it.
The bill – HR 1732 – directs EPA to withdraw the proposed rule that EPA issued in April 2014. The proposed rule was open for public comment for nearly seven months, and EPA is currently considering the over 900,000 public comments received. The bill would require EPA to consider the comments received, the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Board, and the results of additional consultation with state and local officials and stakeholders before drafting a new proposed rule. The bill also requires EPA to submit a report to the committees of jurisdiction that explains the primary areas of contention surrounding the rule, and justifies the proposal with scientific and economic analyses.
EPA has stated repeatedly in congressional hearings and other public statements that they have heard the concerns of the farming community, that they will be making changes in the final rule that reflect these concerns, and that existing exemptions for agricultural practices will not be affected. Yesterday’s vote makes it clear that EPA’s appeals are falling on deaf ears.
The House did not garner the votes yesterday that would be necessary to guarantee the ability to override a presidential veto, should the bill make it through the Senate and to the President’s desk.
However, passage of this stand alone bill is not really the end game for the opponents of finally achieving clarity on Clean Water Act jurisdiction. Policy riders inserted during the appropriations process could still prevent the proposed rule from being finalized.
That is the prize those committed to endless litigation on the issue hope to bring home. While an appropriations bill with a rider strongly opposed by the White House could be vetoed, the thought is that in negotiations this fall over a mega omnibus appropriations bill to fund the entire government, blocking the clean water rule through a backdoor policy rider may yet be a winning hand.
NSAC favors a resolution of this long-standing issue, opposes the House bill and opposes the rider, and continues to urge EPA to fix problematic sections of the proposed rule as it develops the final rule.
Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment