A bill asking the Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. EPA to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. proposal was approved Thursday in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 36 to 22.
The bill, H.R. 1732, Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015 requires the EPA and Army Corps to withdraw the Waters of the United States proposal within 30 days. It's sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and has more than 30 co-sponsors.
In addition to WOTUS withdrawal, the bill also charges EPA and the Army Corps with developing a new proposed rule that must take into consideration all of the comments received on the original proposal, and reach consensus with the state and local governments on defining "Waters of the United States."
The proposal – which defines which waters are "Waters of the United States" and therefore subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act – has caused a rift among the agriculture and other sectors, like manufacturing.
Some ag groups are concerned that the proposal would expand federal jurisdiction over private lands by dictating what waters are subject to the guidelines in the CWA.
The comment period on the proposal has ended, and it's expected that a final rule will come down this spring, according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Last week, the agency discussed some of the clarifications that would be in a final version, but it remains under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The House committee's Wednesday effort at withdrawing WOTUS is the latest in a line of threats to ensure the proposal isn't implemented.
With WOTUS, "EPA would open the door to new levels of federal overreach and would have a drastic impact on the agriculture and construction industries, along with many others," a statement from sponsor Shuster's office said.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, also an opponent of the proposal, is concerned about federal regulation of private land.
"The subjective and ambiguous language of the proposed rule would significantly broaden the federal government's power to regulate waters and adjacent lands that convey water," said NCBA President Philip Ellis. "We also appreciate the legislation requiring the federal government to work with state and local governments, further protecting states' rights."
AFBF letter to Congress
The American Farm Bureau also has openly backed elimination of the Waters of the U.S. proposal as it stands; the group sent a letter April 16 to lawmakers asking them to "resolve this issue fairly."
If the legislation does not pass and EPA moves forward with a final rule, AFBF said the likeliest result would be landowners "being forced to engage in expensive litigation to protect their rights."
“Our members overwhelmingly oppose this rule. It is a bad rule for farmers. There is no question about that," AFBF President Bob Stallman said in a statement.
"Anyone who alleges the opposite either misunderstands the rule or misunderstands farming."