by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 261-155 Tuesday evening to block EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers from moving ahead with the controversial “waters of the U.S.” rule.
The vote was not strong enough to override a veto by President Barack Obama, but Republicans did get the support of 24 Democrats who voted with 237 Republicans to pass the measure.
The rule is meant to define which bodies of water are jurisdictional for EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers, or in other words, which rivers, streams or wetlands are considered “waters of the United States.” One of the arguments used by the administration for the WOTUS rule is that it takes too long for the Army Corps of Engineers to continue making case-by-case decisions to determine whether a waterway is jurisdictional.
The bill, HR 1732, is called the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act. Most major agricultural groups support the bill after pushing for the past year to get EPA to withdraw the proposed rule. The rule currently is at the White House Office of Management and Budget for final review before EPA and the Corps officially publish a final rule.
EPA has argued that normal agricultural activities will continue with their current exemptions under the Clean Water Act. Still, agricultural groups and others fear federal regulators would declare any standing water on a field or ditch as a tributary that should be regulated.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, stated following Tuesday's vote: “The way that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers drew up the WOTUS rule, it was more about regulating land than it ever was about protecting valuable water resources. Farmers and ranchers know all about the importance of protecting water, and they will continue to put that belief into practice. Through cooperative conservation measures, we have helped cut land erosion by more than 50 percent in just the last 20 years. We have reduced pesticide use and today use technology to apply just the right amount of fertilizer at just the right time. We look forward to a new water rule that recognizes the enormous work we have done, and honors the limits authorized by Congress and the Supreme Court.”
The White House had declared its opposition to the House bill at the end of April. A similar bill has been proposed in the Senate, but the House bill will now also be sent to the Senate for consideration.
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