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Appropriations Bill Advances Minus Clean Water Rider, But That May Change

A Senate panel approved a $35.4 billion spending bill without a controversial provision that would block the Obama administration from modifying the Clean Water Act (CWA), but a spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said at this point he is planning to introduce such a provision when the full Appropriations Committee takes up the bill on Thursday, or possibly in another appropriations bill.

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development passed the FY16 Energy & Water Development Appropriations Bill, which includes $5.5 billion in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The bill also includes funding for programs run by the Energy and Interior departments.

"Governing is about setting priorities, and this legislation supports energy research, waterways and national security," said Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). "Because of today's vote, we are one step closer to doubling basic energy research, removing major obstacles to nuclear power, cleaning up hazardous materials at Cold War facilities, and solving critical problems facing our country."

But Republicans and some supporters of the oil and natural gas industry believe efforts by USACE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt a Clean Water Rule (CWR) amounts to an overreach by the federal government. They claim that the rule, currently under review by the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with final authorization expected later this spring, would negatively impact domestic oil and gas production, increase permitting delays for wells and increase drilling costs (see Shale DailyApril 7).

A separate bill -- S 1140, also known as the Federal Water Quality Protection Act -- was introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) on April 30. It calls for USACE and EPA to issue a revised Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule to limit the scope of federal oversight. Specifically, it would include traditional navigable waters, interstate waters and certain streams and wetlands, but would exclude groundwater and isolated ponds, among other things.

Hoeven spokesman Don Canton told NGI's Shale Daily that "we are planning to introduce an amendment on WOTUS, but we're still working on it."

The House passed its version of the $35.4 billion spending bill on May 1 (see Shale DailyMay 1). That bill, HR 2028, includes a rider, Section 105, which prevents 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 23; April 15).

The White House has threatened to veto the entire House spending bill over the rider, and other issues (see Shale DailyApril 29).

A staffer in Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's (D-ND) office told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday that she supports clarifying the WOTUS definition.

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