A National Association of Counties (NACo) County News article (2016-06-27) reported that the United States House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations has passed the FY 2017 Interior and Environment Bill with language prohibiting the implementation of a contested definition change to the “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The United States Senate on Appropriations passed a similar prohibition in its version of the legislation, the FY 2017 Interior Appropriations Bill. A federal court suspended implementation of the Rule last year but could lift that suspension at any time. From the article:
“Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS): Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA finalized controversial new definitions for “waters of the U.S.” within the Clean Water Act. NACo has expressed multiple concerns over the rule’s impact on county-owned and maintained roadside ditches, bridges, flood control channels, drainage conveyances, and wastewater and stormwater systems and has called for the final rule to be withdrawn until further analysis and more in-depth consultation with state and local officials can be completed.
Both the House and Senate bills contain provisions to prohibit EPA from acting on its WOTUS rule. The provisions would prevent the EPA from moving forward to “implement, administer or enforce” the rule even if the federal court system were to lift its stay on the rule.
The House Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which funds U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and Department of Energy programs, has a similar provision preventing the Corps from enforcing the WOTUS rule.
The FY17 Interior bill is one of the 12 annual spending bills that must be passed each year by Congress to fund federal government operations. The bill gives money to federal land managers under the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service as well as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many other agencies.
Both NACo and MACo submitted comments raising concerns over the “Waters of the US” rule. The article also noted that the ultimate fate of the Interior bills remains “uncertain” as the bills often become the subject of floor fights and controversial environmental policy riders.