A May 1 National Association of Counties (NACo) news update reported on the status of federal legislation that would address county concerns over the “Waters of the US” rule change proposed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Both MACo and NACo previously submitted comments raising concerns about the proposed rule. If the rule is not amended or withdrawn, county maintained drainage ditches and stormwater channels could be subject to onerous federal permitting and oversight requirements under the Clean Water Act. The EPA has announced that the rule has been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for final review and would likely be finalized within several months.
From the NACo news update:
On Thursday, April 30, Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) introduced a bipartisan bill, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S. 1140), that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to restart the “waters of the U.S.” rule-making process. NACo, along with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities and the National Association of Regional Councils, wrote a joint letter in support of S. 1140. Counties are encouraged to contact their Senator and urge them to support S. 1140.
S. 1140 is similar to a bill that was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives several weeks ago, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015 (H.R. 1732), which NACo also supports. H.R. 1732 was introduced in the House on April 13 and passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 36-22 on April 27. Currently, the bill is on the House calendar awaiting action by the full chamber. Both S. 1140 and H.R. 1732 would require the agencies to work more closely with state and local governments on a revised “waters of the U.S.” rule. Additionally, S. 1140 contains a list of principals the agencies should consider when rewriting the rule including types of water features that can be jurisdictional or exempt under the proposal. …
The House’s FY 2016 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill also targets the “waters of the U.S.” rule. The bill, which would provide $35.4 billion dollars for energy and water programs, an increase of $1.2 billion over FY 2015 and $633 million below the president’s request, would also place several restrictions on the application of the Clean Water Act. For example, the bill would prohibit any changes to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act or to the definition of “fill material” or “discharge of fill material” under the Act. The appropriations bill also restricts the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas such as farm ponds and irrigation ditches.
NACo also noted that the White House has threatened to veto H.R. 1732:
In its Statement of Administration Policy (SAP), the White House stated that they “strongly oppose” and would veto the bill if it was passed by both the House and Senate, arguing that it would decrease the Administration’s ability to protect water sources and create uncertainty for stakeholders.