House votes to halt expansion of EPA waterways authority

House votes to halt expansion of EPA waterways authority

House passes Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act, on a 262-152 vote. Reaction to EPA's proposed "Waterways of the U.S." rule. Lawmakers deride EPA efforts to expand authorities.

On Tuesday, the House passed H.R. 5078, the Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act, on a 262-152 vote. The vote came in response to the EPA proposed “Waterways of the U.S.” new rule, which has been condemned by agriculture advocates as a blatant power grab by the federal government.

Open for public comments through Oct. 20, the EPA’s new rule would vastly expand its authority under the Clean Water Act.

Although the legislation is unlikely to be voted on in the Senate, officials in the White House nonetheless said they’d recommend a veto if it ever hits the President’s desk.

Following passage of H.R. 5078, Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, urged a Senate vote on the bill and said the EPA’s approach “is an underhanded way to harm American agriculture and threaten America’s food security.” Further, Lucas said he is “pleased the House approved this bipartisan, commonsense bill to block the EPA from expanding its control of our nation’s land and water resources.

"Whether it's trying to regulate farm dust out of existence, milk as oil, or now treat ditches like major water tributaries, the EPA has demonstrated a hunger for power and a lack of understanding of how its actions impact America’s farmers and ranchers. The agency's latest action would trigger an onslaught of additional permitting and regulatory requirements for our agricultural producers to protect not our great natural resources, but rather our backyard ponds.”

EPA/Corps/NRCS alliance spells trouble for farmers, Rep. Crawford says

Just prior to Tuesday’s vote, Minnesota Rep. Collin. Peterson, ranking member of the agriculture committee, backed H.R. 5078 from the House floor. The legislation “is necessary because, in my view, the EPA does not seem to understand the real world effects these regulations will have on farmers across the country.

"We still don’t have any clear definition of a wetland, an issue dating back to the 80s and 90s. Maps used by USDA were unclear and often mislabeled wetlands. This rule would only add more uncertainty.

"In my state, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has done a great job working with farmers to encourage voluntary conservation efforts. This rule would severely disrupt these positive efforts.”

Scathing review

The proposed rule was given a scathing review during a mid-August meeting of the Agriculture Council of Arkansas. “If you haven’t already lodged a complaint about the rule, please do so,” encouraged Andrew Grobmyer, the council’s executive vice president. “The EPA is trying to expand their regulatory authority to go beyond the traditional scope.”

Also speaking at the meeting, Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford said he wouldn’t be surprised if the comment period for the proposed rule is extended. He also laid out his opposition to the rule.

“I don’t think federal agencies should be allowed to comment during a public comment period,” said Crawford. “I believe they do this because federal agencies use other federal agencies to buttress their argument. … I’ve asked directly if more weight is given to a federal agency during a public comment period than from the public. I believe there is and (the agencies) can’t refute that.”

Another point of contention centers around a Supreme Court opinion -- not a ruling -- that stated if the federal government can demonstrate a body of water has a “significant nexus” to a regulated waterway then it too can be regulated.

“I’m almost certain that you can demonstrate interconnectivity with virtually any water to a regulated waterway,” said Crawford. “There’s so much ambiguity and subjectivity. And they’re basing the entire expansion on ‘significant nexus?’”

Waterways of the U.S. proposed rule ‘a gross overreach’

Crawford brought up the example of a swimming pool that, following major rainfall, overflows and eventually drains into a regulated river. Provided with the scenario, government officials have told the lawmaker that swimming pools are exempt under the rule.

“Well, swimming pools are exempt as long as they haven’t spilled their banks,” said Crawford. The officials “can’t and won’t clarify their position on that. Is that example a huge stretch? Maybe, maybe not.

“Have you got a tail-water recovery system on your farm? A stock pond? Those are designed to overflow by design. Where does the government authority stop? I don’t think they have any intention of having” a limit. “Waterways of the U.S. is a gross overreach.”

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