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House passes bill to stop WOTUS

Bipartisan bill requires EPA and Army Corps work with stakeholders on clarifying Clean Water Act.

Action to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward on its Waters of the U.S. rule took another significant step Tuesday with the House passage of the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act by a vote of 261 to 156 which would require EPA withdraw its proposed rule which is expected out soon.

The legislation requires EPA and  the Army Corps of Engineers not only halt moving forward on the currently proposed rule, but also begin working with states and local stakeholders to develop a new and proper set of recommendations. One of the greatest complaints has been a lack of coordinated effort with state and local authorities and the federal overexpansion of jurisdiction from rights previously held at the lower levels.

“It was refreshing to see members of Congress order regulators back to the drawing board, with an admonition to listen to the very real concerns of people who would have their farm fields and ditches regulated in the same manner as navigable streams,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

AFBF has helped spearhead a coordinated effort on “Ditching the Rule.” The farm group has expressed grave concerns about the rule which they said was “more about regulating land than it ever was about protecting valuable water resources.”

Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. noted the rule that the Army Corps and EPA is quickly trying to finalize would put yet another regulatory burden on the rural economy and private landowners. “This action by Congress will ensure that our private lands remain viable and productive, leaving landowners free to undertake stewardship and production decisions without interference by the EPA and the Administration.”

In a floor statement in favor of the bill, House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway (R., Texas) said the rule in its current form is a “massive overreach of EPA’s authority and will impact nearly every farmer and rancher in America.” Conaway noted that it gives EPA the ability to regulate essentially any body of water including farm ponds and even ditches that are dry most of the year.

“What makes the rule ambiguous is the claim made by EPA and the Army Corps that the rule is not all encompassing, yet the agencies also declared they will use their best professional judgment on when they will regulate a water and when they will not. These vague statements hold little comfort for farmers and ranchers who will face steep civil fines for any violation,” Conaway said. 

Statement by Public Lands Council president and Idaho rancher Brenda Richards looks forward to passage of the bill which requires regulators to work with stakeholders to clarify the Clean Water Act in a way that works for those closest to the land. “This needs to be a process that starts at the grassroots, not a process dictated upon us by those with no connection to the land and economic reality,” she said.

Similar legislation has also been introduced by a bipartisan group of senators. That bill, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S 1140), would also direct the agencies to withdraw the proposed rule and develop a new rule in consultation with states and stakeholders, but it would also establish principles the new rule should be based on.

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