Senate votes to nullify Waters of the U.S. rule

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U.S. Capitol

SALEM, Ohio — Voicing their concern over the U.S. EPA’s Waters of the U.S. rule (part of the Clean Water Act), a group of mostly Republican U.S. senators approved a resolution Nov. 4 casting their “congressional disapproval” and asking that the new rule “have no force or effect.”

The resolution passed 53-44, with Ohio’s Republican Sen. Rob Portman in favor, and Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown opposed.

The resolution, known as Senate Joint Resolution 22, was introduced by Iowa’s Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who said farmers and their concerns have been ignored by the EPA.

More uncertainty

In a released statement, she called the water rule “ill-conceived” and said that it “breeds uncertainty, confusion, and more red tape” that threatens the livelihoods of many in Iowa and across the country.

Farmers, farm commodity groups and the American Farm Bureau Federation are concerned that the WOTUS rule would reach too far and regulate ditches and water puddles previously untouched. The U.S. EPA, on the other hand, has insisted that its rule only adds clarity to existing rules, and would not affect what it calls farmers’ “normal” farming practices.

The back-and-forth argument has gone on for at least the past year-and-a-half, although the rule has been somewhat amended.

Still concerned

The final version, however, became effective Aug. 28, and is still an unresolved issue for many of America’s farmers. At least 13 states have sued the EPA over the rule, and others have considered other legal measures to block its implementation.

Related: U.S. EPA finalizes Clean Water Rule

On Oct. 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which covers Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee, put the rule on hold while its legality is being reviewed.

In that decision, the judges wrote that they appreciated the need for more clarity in the rule, but said they were also concerned about “the burden — potentially visited nationwide on governmental bodies, state and federal, as well as private parties — and the impact on the public in general,” due to the rule’s “redrawing of jurisdictional lines” over the nation’s waters.

Looking ahead

The Senate resolution will now go to the U.S. House, for its consideration, and should it pass, will end up on the president’s desk, where some national media are already reporting the president will veto it.

But those opposed to the water rule want to at least force him to decide, between what Ernst calls “an unchecked federal agency, or the livelihoods of our rural communities, who say this overreaching WOTUS rule must be stopped.”

Related coverage:

U.S. EPA finalizes Clean Water Rule (June 5, 2015).

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