Congress looking to halt EPA “Water Rule”

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry recently heard testimony from USDA Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie and several agriculture stakeholders on a proposed interpretive rule that accompanies the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called Waters of the U.S. proposed rule.

The Waters of the U.S. proposed rule would redefine the term “waters of the U.S.” to include intermittent and ephemeral streams; it would significantly expand EPA’s jurisdiction, covering agricultural areas that previously were out of EPA’s reach. The interpretive proposed rule lists 56 agriculture conservation practices that would be exempt from the Waters of the U.S. proposed rule.

Several subcommittee members expressed strong disapproval with the interpretive rule, believing its “voluntary” participation, which Bonnie repeatedly referenced. Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., questioned Bonnie on the need for the interpretive rule if it was, in fact, voluntary and suggested the proposed interpretive rule be withdrawn.

And, in the clearest signal yet of congressional disapproval for the EPA’s proposed rule, Senate leadership this was forced to cancel a routine markup of an Energy and Water Development appropriations bill when it became clear that opponents of the proposed rule had sufficient votes to include an amendment prohibiting EPA from finalizing the regulation.

The Waters Action Coalition submitted a letter in support of the amendment, with 41 agricultural and other industry groups signing on in support of the amendment, which was going to be introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Also, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., along with 29 other Republican senators, introduced legislation – “Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014” – to prevent the EPA from implementing the proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule. The senators say the bill “prohibits the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretary of the Army from finalizing the rule or trying a similar regulation in the future.”

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