The U.S. Senate this week advanced one effort to eliminate a controversial new rule extending regulation over small bodies of water, while blocking another attempt to rewrite it.
“Coloradans know when they’re getting soaked,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, said following votes on Tuesday. “This rule is so poorly written and ill-conceived that multiple federal judges have put halts on its implementation.”
A federal appeals court in early October temporarily blocked the water rule, stating that there could be a “substantial possibility of success” in challenging it.
The water rule clarifies regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act to protect streams and wetlands. That authority has been murky because of confusing and complex guidelines following Supreme Court decisions.
Polluters have escaped fines for violations because of uncertain jurisdiction. But ranchers and farmers worry that even small ditches and ponds on private property would be subject to federal regulation, raising costs and overall compliance burdens.
The resolution that passed in an effort to essentially repeal the rule fell under the Congressional Review Act, which allows for a simple majority to disapprove of any regulation. It passed Wednesday 53-44. The White House has already issued a veto threat.
The measure calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite the water rule required a procedural vote to advance. But it fell three short of the 60 votes needed, with Democrats leading the effort to stop the bill.
Gardner supported a rewrite in order to enact stronger state and agricultural protections with more input from local communities. He also supported the resolution eliminating the rule.
“The WOTUS rule is a classic example of federal overreach, giving the EPA authority to regulate ponds, ditches and tiny streams across Colorado and the West,” Gardner said.
The EPA maintains that the rule provides greater clarity to farmers.
“The final rule specifically recognizes the vital role that U.S. agriculture serves in providing food, fuel and fiber at home and around the world,” the EPA said in a statement. “Activities like planting, harvesting and moving livestock have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that.”