The Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill this week that would block a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clarify what streams, tributaries and wetlands can be protected under the Clean Water Act.
The proposed Waters of the United States rule would help protect the one third of Americans who get their drinking water from sources that are currently without oversight, said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Opponents said the proposed rule is regulatory overreach, and farm organizations voiced concern that the EPA would start checking up on agricultural ditches and seasonal puddles — bodies of water that are currently not regulated by the Clean Water Act.
“In no way do we intend to reduce the exclusions or exemptions that are currently in the Clean Water Act,” McCarthy said at a hearing in February. “Our goal in this rule is very straightforward. It is to respond to requests from stakeholders across the country to make the process of identifying waters protected under the Clean Water Act easier to understand, to make it more predictable and more consistent with the law and peer-reviewed science.”
The proposed Waters of the U.S. rule would offer protection to two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands. Right now, those areas are not clearly designated under the Clean Water Act.
A report by the Science Advisory Board last year found that regulating these bodies of water is critical to protecting America’s water system. “The available science supports the conclusion that the types of water bodies identified as waters of the United States in the proposed rule exert strong influence on the physical, biological, and chemical integrity of downstream waters,” the report states.
The House bill, which was introduced by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), would force the EPA and the Secretary of the Army to halt the proposed rule and develop a new one after additional discussions with state and local officials. According to environmentalists, the bill is just another attack on the EPA’s oversight on polluters.
“Make no mistake. This measure is the tip of the spear in an all-out assault by developers, Big Agriculture and the fossil fuel industry against efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to protect the public from dangerous pollution in their drinking water supplies and in the bodies of water in which they fish and swim,” Jon Devine, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told ThinkProgress in an email.
The bill is the latest in a long line of attempts by the current Congress to undermine environmental regulations. In recent months, the House has voted to stop funding for the EPA’s coal permitting program and passed a bill limiting the EPA’s use of science. It’s also introduced a bill to delay the EPA’s proposed rule on emissions from power plants, which are among the largest contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. The Senate also introduced a bill targeting the EPA’s proposed carbon rule on Wednesday.
None of the bills has become law, and Obama has already said he will veto Rep. Shuster’s newest addition to the list.
In a press release following the vote, Shuster reiterated his concerns.
“The EPA’s latest power grab is a prime example of why Pennsylvanians are sick and tired of the oversized federal government,” Shuster said in a statement. “This rule would have major impacts on our farmers and homebuilders, and could force thousands of dollars in fines onto Central and Southwestern Pennsylvanian small businesses. I was proud to lead the fight to stop this unchecked expansion of government and protect our region’s jobs.”