Senate Votes to End Waters of the U.S. Rule; Presidential Veto Likely

In November, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution aimed at ending the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule. But opponents of the legislation still need to overcome a presidential veto, which they say is unlikely.

The Waters of the U.S. rule would redefine how water bodies in the United States are subject to federal regulations under the Clean Water Act. A wide range of farm groups oppose the legislation. The U.S. House will take up the resolution now and is expected to approve it, as well. But President Barack Obama is likely to veto the resolution.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution against the U.S. EPA?s water rule passed on a 53-44 vote. Three Democrats joined every Republican except Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) in advancing the bill. The resolution would prevent the implementation of the water rule, but it?s ultimately unlikely to take effect, given opposition from Obama and the GOP?s inability to secure a veto-proof majority.

But Republicans said the resolution would put their opposition to Obama?s environmental regulations squarely in the president?s hands.

?My legislation is the necessary next step in pushing back against this blatant power grab by the EPA,? Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the resolution?s sponsor, said in November. ?We will send this to the president, where he will be forced to decide between the livelihood of our rural communities nationwide and his unchecked federal agency.?

Republicans have long opposed the EPA?s water rule, which asserts federal regulatory authority over small bodies of water such as wetlands and some ponds. Some Democrats have also joined the effort, claiming the rule will have a negative effect on agriculture and energy development.

The Senate?s vote came after Republicans failed to advance a bill that would undo the water rule and send it back the EPA with instructions for a rewrite. CRA resolutions don?t require a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster, giving Republicans an opportunity to pass a bill undoing the rule over the objection of Democrats.
?Most Democrats chose an ideological power grab over sensible clean water rules [in November],? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. ?This regulation feels a lot like the latest in a sustained Obama administration regulatory assault on their families. Well, the Senate is going to pursue another avenue today to protect the middle class from this unfair regulatory attack.?

The White House defended the rule, issuing a veto threat against the resolution, saying it would ?nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.?

?The agencies? rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court,? officials wrote in a Statement of Administration Policy.

The water rule faces more challenges than just the CRA ? 31 states and multiple industry groups have challenged the legality of the rule and a federal court has previously blocked its implementation.

Senators Say ?Land Grab? Disregards Farmers

U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), who voted to disapprove and overturn the Waters of the U.S. regulation, say the rule will expose farmers, ranchers, homeowners and businesses to significant compliance costs and new fines.

?The administration?s Waters of the United States rule allows federal bureaucrats to assert control over thousands of streams, creeks, wetlands, ponds and ditches throughout the country,? said Isakson, in a statement Nov. 4. ?This rule harms not only landowners, but our entire agriculture industry in Georgia. I applaud the Senate passage of Senator Ernst?s resolution.?

?Washington?s fourth branch of government, the regulators, originally put this rule in place with complete disregard for the negative impact it would have on Georgia farmers and landowners,? added Perdue in a joint statement with Isakson. ?Thirty-one states have come together to stop this land grab and today we?re finally putting this harmful regulation back on President Obama?s desk for him to strongly reconsider.?

Senators Isakson and Perdue also co-sponsored S.1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, which would require a revision of the Waters of the U.S. rule to define clear limits and to take into account an economic analysis of the rule. In November, the legislation failed to get the 60 votes necessary to advance in the Senate.

The proposed rule redefining Waters of the U.S. under the Clean Water Act was first released on March 25, 2014 by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. The term ?Waters of the U.S.? is the Clean Water Act?s threshold provision that determines whether the law?s permitting and regulatory requirements apply to a particular body of water.

The proposed rule was finalized in September 2015. Opponents say the rule will provide EPA and the Corps, as well as environmental groups, with a powerful tool to delay and prevent development and land use activities on property owned by homeowners, farms, small businesses and municipalities. Federal bureaucrats ? and not state and local authorities ? could assert control over thousands of rivers, streams, lakes and marshes throughout the country.

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