DURING debate of a House bill to limit the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward on its proposed waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, a handful of opposing members said it was pointless for the House to take up a measure that has no chance of being brought up in the Senate.
Maybe there is a bit of truth in what many perceive to be just another "political vote." A bill that comes from the Republican-controlled House is likely to be dead on arrival at the Democrat-controlled Senate.
But this vote was a strong statement — and even a bipartisan one — that farmers and ranchers made their voices heard, and their representatives listened and acted on it.
A total of 35 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, 13 of whom are on the House Agriculture Committee. The bill passed out of committee by a voice vote and was defended strongly by Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W.Va.), ranking member on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, who also had to manage the Democrat floor debate.
Rahall said despite EPA's claims that the WOTUS rule clears up confusion about which waters should be regulated under the federal Clean Water Act, he said the proposed regulations only stirred up more aggravation. He said if EPA really believes this is trying to provide clarity, "one has to wonder what's in the water over at the EPA headquarters."
House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) praised the House action to keep EPA in check.
"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."
Agricultural groups called on the Senate to take up the legislation, but the Senate is not expected to consider a WOTUS bill until after the November elections, if even then.
Thirty-eight senators have sponsored legislation similar to the House-passed version, but no Democrats have signed on to support the bill. Although 12 Democrats have expressed concern with the rule, they have been unwilling to stick their necks out politically and go against Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).
Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), a co-sponsor of the Senate version, said in a statement, "It is time for the Senate to act on this commonsense legislation to protect farmers, ranchers and other private property owners from confusing and vague proposed rules. I call on majority leader Reid to call up the House-passed bill or the Senate bills that would stop this attack on rural America."
The White House has threatened a veto. It would take a two-thirds margin in both chambers to overturn it if the bill did reach the President's desk and he followed through on the threat.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which has loudly opposed the WOTUS rule and initiated a "Ditch the Rule" campaign among farmers, said the vote is an "unmistakable signal that the tide is turning against those who ignore the constitutional separation of powers in the United States. We will ditch this rule."