Waters of the US Bill to Stop EPA Gets House Floor Debate

Full House set to tackle legislation to limit EPA’s ability to implement proposed waters of the U.S. rule and accompanying interpretive rule.

Shortly after the rule was proposed, 231 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle urged the Environmental Protection Agency’s to withdraw their proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. Now members will get their first chance of voting on stopping EPA from implementing the proposal causing concerns in the countryside with a vote in the House during the week of September 8.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to review H.R. 5078, legislation prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the proposed Waters of the U.S. regulation.

In a scheduled meeting late in the afternoon on Monday, the Rules Committee will establish the rules of debate for the House, which is expected shortly after the bill clears the Rules Committee. A vote by the full House of Representatives on H.R. 5078 is expected later on in the week.

H.R. 5078 addresses both the proposed regulation and the interpretive rule related to exempt agriculture activities and prevents the agencies from directly or indirectly using the documents as the basis for decisions regarding the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The CWA was originally intended to allow the federal government to regulate navigable waters; but recent court decisions have questioned the definition of which bodies of water are “navigable” and if the CWA has jurisdiction over them. Due to this uncertainty, the EPA proposed a rule to clarify the waters of the U.S. and also issued an interpretive rule to explain how the proposed rule would impact CWA exemptions for agriculture.

Action in the full House comes after the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology recently released maps of waters and wetlands the EPA has to-date. The maps show waters and wetlands in all 50 states and look to detail the reach of the waters of the U.S. proposal.

Knowledge of the maps came as the Committee was doing research in preparation for a hearing regarding the proposed “Waters of the United States” rule. The maps were kept hidden while the agencies marched forward with rulemaking that fundamentally re-defines private property rights, said Rep. Lamar Smith (R., Texas).

Answering the criticisms, Tom Reynolds EPA associate administrator of the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, explained in a blog the maps were originally created in 2005 during the previous administration to understand the potential impact of Supreme Court decisions on the nation’s water resources.  The maps were revised last year with updated data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific agency for cataloguing the nation’s natural resources.

“Simply put, these maps do not show the scope of waters historically covered under the Clean Water Act or proposed to be covered under EPA’s proposed rule. These maps show generally the location of many streams, wetlands, rivers, lakes and other water bodies. They serve as a tool for visualizing how water flows across our nation and in regions of the country,” he said.

Reynolds said EPA “has never and is not now relying on maps to determine jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.” Rather the Army Corps of Engineers determines jurisdiction using detailed site specific information in response to requests. “EPA’s proposal will not fully eliminate the need for these efforts, but it can reduce leg work, saving time and money by using science – not maps – to more clearly define the waters that are most important to protect.”

Reynolds promised that while these maps are useful tools for water resource managers, “they cannot be used to determine Clean Water Act jurisdiction – now or ever.”

These maps are very similar to the maps produced by agricultural groups. These maps show individual states facing upwards of 100,000 additional stream miles that could be regulated under the proposed regulation.

“This is the smoking gun for agriculture,” said Ashley McDonald, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association environmental counsel. “These maps show that EPA knew exactly what they were doing and knew exactly how expansive their proposal was before they published it.”

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