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House Committee Passes Spending Bill With CWA Rider Intact; Dems Hint at Veto

The House Appropriations Committee left a controversial rider attached to a $35.4 billion spending bill on Wednesday that would prevent the Obama administration from expanding the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA), a move that Democrats warned could trigger a presidential veto.

Shortly after the committee voted to pass the FY2016 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, a White House official blasted the panel for passing a bill that “includes a range of highly problematic ideological riders.” The bill now moves to the House floor for consideration.

Last week, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee took up the appropriations bill and inserted language preventing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) from attempting to "develop, adopt, implement, administer or enforce any change to the regulations and guidance in effect on Oct. 1, 2012, pertaining to the definition of waters under the jurisdiction of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act..." (see Shale Daily, April 15).

The move was championed by Republicans, who see efforts by USACE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt the Clean Water Rule (CWR) as an overreach by the federal government. The rule is currently under review by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), with final authorization expected later this spring (see Shale Daily, April 7).

If enacted into law, USACE would be barred from changing the definition of waterways until after Sept. 30, 2016, the last day of the 2016 fiscal year.

During the full committee's proceedings on Wednesday, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) introduced an amendment to strike all legislative riders from the appropriations bill. She said such riders "could threaten enactment of this year's bill," and added that during negotiations with the Senate last December, the administration hinted that it could veto the bill.

"The administration issued a firm veto message about attaching controversial policy riders, and they specifically warned about riders nearly identical to the ones included in this bill," Kaptur said. "I understand how these get included...but let's remember that we on this committee know how the inclusion of any one of these provisions could threaten an entire bill...we have a tough negotiation on this bill already without saddling it with legislative riders."

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) concurred. "We already have our work cut out for us on the job we are supposed to be doing -- determining funding levels," Lowey said. "We should not allow this process to be bogged down by controversial riders. We should vote to drop them now."

But Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), who chairs the subcommittee that attached the rider, remained firm.

"Deciding how water should be used should be the responsibility of states and local officials who are familiar with the people and local issues," Simpson said. "I will tell you also that if you accept this connectivity rule that EPA promulgated in conjunction with USACE, it will lead you, undoubtedly, to the EPA also controlling groundwater...This expands the control of the federal government over waters of the United States far beyond anything that was ever intended in the CWA."

The amendment failed by a 31-18 vote.

After the bill’s passage by the committee, OMB Director Shaun Donovan posted a lengthy rebuke of Republicans’ plans to the White House’s official website. He said the bill includes “provisions that threaten to undermine our ability to protect a resource that is essential [to] America’s health: clean water.”

The appropriations bill, one of an all-important series of bills to fund the federal government, funds USACE and also the Department of Interior, Department of Energy and independent agencies.

Republicans in Congress are also attempting to stop the CWR from taking effect with a separate bill. Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a standalone bill -- HR 1732, also known as the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act -- which would stop CWR outright.

Last year, EPA and USACE said Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 had created confusion over how the CWA should protect streams and wetlands (see Daily GPI, March 26, 2014). The agencies said that confusion made it necessary to pen the CWR.

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