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Senators Propose Trimming Federal Oversight of Waterways

As the U.S. House of Representatives was considering an appropriations bill rider to block the administration’s proposed rule broadening waterways oversight under the Clean Water Act (CWA), a bipartisan group of senators Thursday offered legislation to send the rule back to the drawing board.

The group leaders, representing oil/gas and agricultural states, proposed the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S 1140), which would direct the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to issue a revised “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule, limiting the scope of federal oversight.

The proposed legislation would ensure the protection of traditional navigable waters of the United States. But it would exclude isolated ponds, ditches, agriculture water, storm water, groundwater, floodwater, municipal water supply systems, wastewater management systems, and streams without enough flow to carry pollutants to navigable waters.

The bill was sponsored by a coalition led by U.S. Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Heidi Heitkamp, (D-ND), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

They hailed the bill as an attempt to protect “America’s farmers, ranchers and landowners. Our legislation gives the EPA the direction it needs to write a reasonable rule that will truly protect our ‘navigable’ waterways,” Barrasso said, adding that Nebraskans protect their water resources at the state and local level and are opposed to “a federal takeover of our water resources.”‎

The group said EPA and USACE “have proposed to expand the scope of federal authority over land and water to encompass all water in a flood plain, man-made water management systems, and water that infiltrates into the ground or moves overland, and any other water that they decide has a significant nexus to downstream water based on use by animals, insects and birds and water storage considerations, shifting the focus of the Clean Water Act.”

The House was preparing to vote Friday, but then put off the vote until May, on HR 2028 -- also known as the FY2016 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill -- which went to the floor with a rider that would prevent the 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 30). The White House has said President Obama will veto the $35.4 billion spending bill if it comes with the restriction on the new CWA rule.

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