A group of 30 Republican U.S. Senators on Thursday introduced legislation to stop the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, currently under public comment, which they say would ignore limits established by Congress regarding regulation of bodies of water in the United States if finalized.
The proposed rule, officially announced on March 25, dictates what waters fall under the definition of waters of the U.S., providing EPA and Corps jurisdiction to enforce regulations outlined in the Clean Water Act.
"The Obama EPA is trying every scheme they can think of to take control of all water in the United States," said Protecting Water and Property Rights Act of 2014 author Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo, said in a press statement. "This time, their unprecedented federal water grab is in the form of a rule that will hurt family farms, ranches, and small businesses by imposing outrageous permitting fees and compliance costs."
Barrasso suggested that if the rule goes forward, it will restrict local land and water use decisions. Many farm groups agree, suggesting that the rule could extend to intermittent streams and ditches, requiring additional permitting for farming and ranching activities.
Co-sponsor Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the rule would "enable government bullying." The new bill, he suggested, "will ensure the continued and necessary protection of our natural resources while safeguarding the private property rights of American families, farmers, and small businesses."
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., also a co-sponsor, said the EPA should scrap the rule and "refocus its efforts within the boundaries set by Congress."
The American Farm Bureau Federation, also a critic of the Waters of the U.S. rule, has already endorsed the bill on the grounds that EPA and the Army Corps proposal would offer the agencies an authority not granted to them by Congress.
"In fact, the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation recently called for bipartisan support to prevent Congress from ceding such authority to the agency," AFBF said in an endorsement letter provided to Sen. Barrasso's office.
"As a practical matter, (the proposed rule) will mean increased enforcement against farmers, greater expenses for permitting, potential delays in managing their operations, and the unquestioned exposure of legal liability attendant with lawsuits from activists."
The public has until Oct. 20 to comment on the rule. The comment period for the accompanying interpretive rule, which details agricultural exemptions, concludes July 7.
Additional legislation co-sponsors include Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., John Cornyn, R-Texas, John Thune, R-S.D., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, John Boozman, R-Ark., Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Rand Paul, R-Ky., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Dean Heller, R-Nev., Thad Cochran, R-Miss., Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Richard Burr, R-N.C., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Source: Sen. John Barrasso