By Sara Jerome,
The House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday to block environmental regulators from clarifying their authority over domestic waterways, marking the latest flashpoint in a protracted, partisan battle over a controversial EPA proposal.
The Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, approved in a 261-155 vote, would halt the EPA proposal. It would force the agency "to withdraw the rules and further consult with state and local officials before rewriting it," the Associated Press reported.
The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed last year to clarify the definition of "waters of the U.S." in the Clean Water Act. Republicans and the agriculture lobby expressed major concerns about the proposal, arguing it represents a federal power grab.
Approval of the House bill does not mean the water proposal is dead. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, reports said.
In April, the White House Office of Management and Budget said the legislation would “derail current efforts to clarify the scope of the [Clean Water Act], hamstring future regulatory efforts, and deny businesses and communities the regulator certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water,” according to The Hill.
"The final rule should be allowed to proceed,” the administration said. “It would be imprudent to dismiss the years of work that have already occurred, and no value would be added. The agencies need to be able to finish their work.”
Democrats portrayed the GOP effort as premature. "We're being asked to vote on killing something that nobody has read," said Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, per the AP.
Blocking the water proposal is a point of agreement for several GOP presidential hopefuls.
"The major Republican presidential candidates have united around a bill to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) controversial rule redefining its jurisdiction over bodies of water. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced the Defense of Environment and Property Act [last month], with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) among the original co-sponsors. All three have announced their presidential candidacy in recent weeks," The Hill reported.
The GOP is not alone in opposing the waterway proposal. "A diverse group of business interests, including mining companies and developers, even golf courses, oppose the rule the administration issued [last] spring, but the farm lobby, led by the American Farm Bureau Federation, has taken the most public role in trying to persuade Congress to stop the regulation from taking effect," Roll Call reported.
The EPA argues that the rule is necessary because Supreme Court decisions make it unclear what the agency may regulate under the Clean Water Act.
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