Congressional Deal Could Alter Pending “Waters of the US” Rule

As congressional leaders pursue final votes on a far-reaching, multi-part compromise over federal spending, one issue of interest to counties may be folded into an emerging bipartisan compromise bill. The US US Environmental Protection Agency’s reach over “Waters of the Unites States,” a pending rule change with far-reaching effect, is one topic addressed amidst the debate on the omnibus spending bill.

Early indications on the complicated legislation suggest that the bill will reduce funding for the EPA (by some $60 million) but will leave the essential components of the rule itself intact (thay are still pending final approval).

MACo has joined with NACo and several Maryland counties in expressing concerns about the EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule, which could greatly expand the EPA’s reach for oversight. NACo recently called for the proposed rules to be withdrawn. (See NACo’s extensive resources on the WOTUS issue online)

From coverage in The Hill:

The funding bill would also force the EPA to withdraw a so-called interpretive rule on the ponds and streams over which it has jurisdiction.

The “waters of the United States” interpretive rule was meant to clarify to farmers which agricultural practices are always allowed under the Clean Water Act. But Republicans and agriculture groups complained that it added confusion and could be read to greatly expand the EPA’s authority.

It leaves in place the underlying “waters of the United States” proposal to redefine the EPA’s jurisdiction over water bodies like ponds and streams, which has also received great backlash from Republicans who say that it would massively expand federal reach. The EPA plans to make it final in the spring.

Greens and Democrats had feared that the bill lawmakers negotiated would block the water protection rule or other Obama administration priorities like the EPA’s proposals to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

Democrats were proud to have defended the water rule and other top Obama administration environmental priorities in the bill.

A Democratic source said Republicans “fought aggressively” against the water rule but failed.

The source characterized the omnibus fight as a broad success story in which Democrats defended Obama’s environmental agenda from “aggressive” Republican pressure.

Read the full article from The Hill online.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties