Politics & Government

Republican senators blast EPA over clean-water proposal they say goes too far

A group of Republican U.S. senators is blasting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers for a clean-water proposal that has riled agriculture interests nationwide.

The so-called “Waters of the United States” rule was proposed by the EPA and Army Corps to simplify and clarify the meaning of the 1972 Clean Water Act. That law cover rivers, lakes and year-round wetlands. But what about certain streams that dry up part of the year? Or wetlands that are only wet during springtime months?

Two U.S. Supreme Court cases in the 2000s muddied things further. The proposed rule is intended to take into consideration those court cases and to lay out standards for which waters should be covered.

The Clean Water Act requires permits for developing or discharging into covered waters, making the rule – which regulators hope to complete by next year – of vital importance to farmers, and to landowners in general.

But since the proposal was announced earlier this year, farm interests have strongly lined up against it, and some state-level officials have pushed back as well. They say the rule is an overreach by the EPA. Republicans in the U.S. House have sought to kill it.

Now, Republicans in the U.S. Senate are taking their shot.

In a letter late last week to top officials at the EPA and Army Corps, a group of senators led by John Barrasso of Wyoming, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and David Vitter of Louisiana say the proposal goes too far and would “give the agencies virtually unlimited regulatory authority over all state and local waters, no matter how remote or isolated such waters may be from truly navigable waters.”

A total of 24 Republican senators signed the letter. The central point was that there was a “disconnect between regulatory reality and the administration’s utopian view of the proposed ‘waters of the United States’ rule.”

They wrote: “That such statements have come from EPA and the Corps suggests that the agencies either don’t appreciate the real-world impacts of the law they’re charged with administering, or they are intentionally trying to minimize the effect of the proposed rule.”

While farm interests and Republicans have pushed hard against the rule, environmental groups and the Obama administration have just as strongly advocated for it, saying the rule is vital to helping clean up the nation’s waterways and that it would help – not hinder – economic growth.

To date, nearly 225,000 public comments have come in on the rule.