House of Representatives Passes Interior Bill With Prohibitions on TMDL “Backstops” and Waters of the US Definition

The United States House of Representatives passed H.R.  5538 (Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017) on a largely partisan vote of 231-196 on July 14, 2016. The Interior Bill includes funding to the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and related agencies and is often the subject of controversial riders and amendments.

The bill passed with an amendment offered by Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) prohibiting EPA from using any of funding provided under the bill to implement punitive actions (or “backstops”) against states under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load mandate. As previously reported on Conduit Street, the bill also contained a provision prohibiting the EPA and United States Army Corps of Engineers from implementing a contested definitional change to the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. An amendment offered by Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) would have removed that provision but was subsequently withdrawn.

Maryland Representative Andy Harris voted in favor of the bill while Representatives Elijah Cummings, John Delaney, Donna Edwards, Steny Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, John Sarbanes, and Christopher Van Hollen, Jr. all voted against.

In an open letter to Congressional representatives (2016-07-12), Clean Water Action and 20 other environmental groups unsuccessfully urged the representatives to oppose the Interior Bill and the Goodlatte amendment and to support the Lawrence amendment:

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters across the country, we urge you to oppose the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (H.R. 5538). This spending bill has once again become a target for dozens of anti-environmental and superfluous policy provisions, which have no place in the appropriations process. This bill also makes funding cuts to key environmental programs and agencies, which we strongly oppose. Congress should be investing in America’s future—not moving us backward by undermining bedrock laws or cutting funding for programs that help our communities thrive. …

We strongly encourage you to OPPOSE the following amendments: …

Goodlatte, Thompson, Glenn #20: This amendment limits EPA’s key authority to protect clean water in the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed which spans 6 states and the District of Columbia. This authority is critical to ensure full Clean Water Act protections for over 18 million residents and to the success of the historic federal-state collaboration to restore the Chesapeake Bay. …

We strongly encourage you to SUPPORT the following amendments:

Lawrence, Beyer, Cartwright #40: This amendment seeks to strike Section 427, which blocks funding for EPA and Army Corps of Engineers’ Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule restores vital pollution safeguards to a variety of our nation’s waterways, including the small streams that feed the drinking water of one in three Americans, and provides clarity and certainty to the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Both MACo and the National Association of Counties (NACo) have submitted concerns over the proposed Waters of the US definitional change.

Useful Links

H.R. 5538 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of Waters of the US Provision in Interior Bill

Clean Water Action Website

Capital Gazette article (2016-07-14)