Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are using two pieces of legislation -- a standalone bill and an add onto an appropriations bill -- to try to block the Obama administration from implementing the Clean Water Rule (CWR), a proposed component to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) derided by the GOP and oil and gas industry groups.
Last week, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) said the CWR had been sent to the White House's Office of Management and Budget for review, and that the rule was headed toward finalization later this spring (see Shale Daily, April 7).
But on Wednesday, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee sent to the full committee an appropriationsbill -- officially, the FY2016 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill -- which includes funding for the USACE. According to a draft of the bill, the Army Corps would not be allowed 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..."
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. Passage would also pose a prickly proposition for President Obama, who would have to veto the entire appropriations bill to prevent the block to CWR from taking effect.
"The recommendation increases funding for the activities of the USACE by $142 million above last year, and $865 million above the request [by the Obama administration]," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), the subcommittee's chairman. "I want to restate that -- $865 million above the request. I simply cannot understand why, when this administration was proposing increases for so many activities...[that] the request proposed to cut the USACE by $750 million."
The appropriations bill, one of several to fund the federal government, also includes funding for the Department of Interior, Department of Energy and independent agencies.
Meanwhile, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday passed a standalone bill to stop the CWR outright. The bill -- HR 1732, also known as the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act -- passed the committee 32-22, with bipartisan support.
In a statement Wednesday, the committee said CWR "was written without first properly consulting state and local authorities; without considering their rights, responsibilities, liabilities, and budgets; and without realistically examining the potential economic and legal impacts on private citizens, farmers, and other stakeholders.
"HR 1732 requires the agencies to start over and develop a new, workable rule in consultation with state and local governments and other stakeholders who will be affected by the rule."
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the committee's chairman and sponsor of HR 1732, said "the administration's process was flawed from the beginning, and it's no surprise the result is a proposed rule that broadly expands federal power. This bill gives the agencies another chance to do what they should have done in the first place -- work together with states, local governments, and stakeholders to actually develop a rule that provides clarity, maintains a balanced regulatory approach, and considers potential economic impacts on Americans."
Carlton Carroll, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute (API), told NGI’s Shale Daily that the association supports the transportation committee’s passage of HR 1732.
“API applauds the committee vote to rein in EPA’s proposal, which threatens not only domestic energy production but also construction, manufacturing, and agricultural activities by blocking access to state and private lands,” Carroll said Wednesday.
Matt Kellogg, tax and environmental counsel for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), said the organization also back HR 1732, and added that the CWR “drastically increases the scope of federal jurisdiction over water.
“The lack of clarity in the proposed rulemaking creates significant uncertainty for regulated entities and small business owners,” Kellogg told NGI’s Shale Daily on Wednesday. “All land use industries are impacted by this increase in federal regulatory authority. IPAA supports [HR 1732], which reasserts the role of Congress in defining waters of the United States and initiates a transparent process that should lead to a more appropriate clarification of federal jurisdiction over our nation’s waterways.”
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).