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House Defies Veto Threat, Passes Appropriations Bill With Clean Water Rider

Defying threats of a veto by President Obama, the House of Representatives on Friday passed a $35.4 billion spending bill that includes a rider preventing the administration from expanding the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The bill -- HR 2028, also known as the FY2016 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill -- now moves to the Senate, where lawmakers have introduced a separate bill directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revisit its plans for classifying the nation's waterways (see Shale Daily, April 30).

HR 2028 passed the House along partisan lines, 240-177, a total well short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. The bill's passage brings to the horizon the very real possibility of a shutdown of the affected agencies, should President Obama and Republicans not be able to reach a compromise. Ten Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while seven Republicans were opposed.

Republicans and some industry backers believe efforts by USACE and EPA to adopt the new Clean Water Rule (CWR) amount to an overreach by the federal government, and claim it would negatively impact domestic oil and gas production, increase permitting delays for wells and increase drilling costs. 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).

Zachary Cikanek, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute (API), told NGI's Shale Daily on Friday that the organization "applauds efforts 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."

House lawmakers considered 61 amendments in total to HR 2028, beginning last Wednesday. Of those, 28 were agreed to by voice vote and six were agreed to by a recorded vote. Another seven proposed amendments failed by voice vote, 13 were rejected by recorded vote, five were withdrawn and two were scuttled after point of order objections were sustained.

One of the first amendments, proposed Wednesday by Rep. Donald Beyer (D-VA), called for striking Section 105 from HR 2028. The rider would prevent 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 spending bill over the rider, and other issues (see Shale Daily,April 29).

Beyer's amendment failed on a voice vote.

Five additional amendments -- suggested by Reps. Raul Ruiz (D-CA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) -- would have reduced or eliminated funding for fossil energy research and development. All five were defeated.

Last November, API said that while it was difficult to calculate just how much the CWR would cost the oil and gas industry, a report it commissioned said it would negatively impact GDP by $8 billion during the first year in the upstream segment of the oil and gas industry alone.

The rule would expand pollution protections under the CWA from navigable streams and their tributaries to also cover most seasonal and rain-dependent streams, and wetlands near rivers and streams. The extension is based on scientific studies by the EPA as to how discharges from small bodies of water, such as streams that flow only at certain times of the year, affect the downstream. Other types of waters that may have more "uncertain connections" with downstream waters would be evaluated through a case-specific analysis.

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.

In the Senate, a separate bill, S 1140, calls on USACE and EPA to issue a revised "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule, limiting the scope of federal oversight.

Republicans in the House 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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