House members on Tuesday approved a bill with a 262-152 vote that could block the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers from moving forward with its revised definition of the "Waters of the United States."
The revised definition, formally introduced in March and still up for public comment until October, describes what waters can be regulated under the Clean Water Act. Several farm groups oppose the EPA's proposal, fearing that it could allow the agency expanded jurisdiction that would threaten private property and states' rights.
Bill sponsor Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., said the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers' actions are the "definition of regulatory creep."
"The old rule was adjacent wetlands to navigable waters. Now it's all waters adjacent to wetlands, adjacent to navigable waters. This really facilitates a capture of private property using the Clean Water Act and this onerous authority as a tool for imminent domain," Southerland said in a statement.
According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, a supporter of the bill, EPA's proposal also could eliminate states' rights to regulate waters within their boundaries.
"The proposed rule … expands federal jurisdiction to nearly every water in the country, including ditches, puddles and ponds," an NCBA statement said.
The bill, on the other hand, restores those rights and also invalidates the interpretative rule which was published alongside the WOTUS proposal in an attempt to clarify the "normal farming, silviculture and ranching activities" exemptions under Sec. 404 of the Clean Water Act, NCBA explained.
"The interpretive rule actually narrows the scope of what is considered normal farming and ranching practices," said NCBA's Environmental Counsel Ashley McDonald. "Practices such as building a fence or grazing cattle have previously never needed a permit. However, without approval of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, producers could face up to $37,500 in fines, per day.
"This is far from Congressional intent and puts farmers and ranchers livelihoods in jeopardy," she said.
Though the WOTUS proposal remains up for public comment until Oct. 20, other farm groups supporting the bill and opposing WOTUS say EPA should rescind the definition and start again.
"[National Pork Producers Council] wants EPA to rescind its agricultural exemptions rule immediately and to either withdraw the WOTUS rule or work with agriculture to make changes in the proposal that reflect real on-farm conditions, then reopen the rule for public comment," NPPC President Howard Hill said in a released statement.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., in a statement following the vote also expressed concern over the EPA's power and supported a quick move to the Senate for Southerland's bill.
"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," Lucas said. "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."
If the bill moves forward, however, it is not likely to receive approval from the White House, which Monday issued a statement of administration policy indicating an intention to veto the bill if it continues through Congress as it was proposed.
Read commentary from Farm Futures blogger and ag attorney Gary Baise For more on the EPA's proposed waters rule.