Senate Passes Bill to Block Controversial Water Rule; Reid Brands Effort 'Show Vote'

WASHINGTON – Legislation aimed at blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to expand its regulatory authority over bodies of water for the purpose of limiting pollution has passed the Senate but it appears unlikely to survive an almost certain presidential veto.

The measure to disapprove the recently adopted Waters of the United States rule passed in a 53-44 vote with three Democrats crossing the aisle to oppose the regulatory expansion. It now heads to the House where it is likewise expected to pass before running into a White House-imposed blockade.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the lead sponsor, characterized the regulation as “ill-conceived and harmful,” asserting that debate over the rule concerns “how much authority the federal government and unelected bureaucrats should have to regulate what is done on private land.”

“This rule is so complex and so ambiguous that folks in my state are concerned that any low spot on a farmer’s field, or a ditch, or a puddle after a rainstorm may now fall under the EPA’s watch,” Ernst said.

The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers jointly produced the rule, popularly known as WOTUS, as a means to limit pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.

The regulation essentially expands the scope of the agency’s authority to regulate pollution affecting about 60 percent of the nation’s bodies of water. It is being promulgated under the Clean Water Act of 1972 and is intended to address a pair of confusing U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding the federal government’s authority to regulate small streams and other areas like wetlands.

In announcing implementation of the rule last May, President Obama called it “another step towards protecting the waters that belong to all of us.”

“One in three Americans now gets drinking water from streams lacking clear protection, and businesses and industries that depend on clean water face uncertainty and delay, which costs our economy every day,” Obama said. “Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution.”

But the expansion drew opposition from agricultural and business groups, including the American Farm Bureau and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who argue that it will violate the rights of private property owners and stifle economic growth.

WOTUS attracted immediate lawsuits and its implementation has been placed on hold by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The legislative action is intended to assure it never takes effect.

“While there are clear indications that this WOTUS rule is illegal and likely to be scrapped by the courts, that process could take years to play out and all at the expense of the average American,” Ernst said. “Let’s not wait around for the inevitable and force our farmers and small businesses to operate in the dark while they wait. Let’s fix this now and give American families the certainty they deserve.”