Senate effort fails to stop EPA’s ‘waters of the U.S.’ rule

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, said Nov. 3 that he was disappointed in the failure of a vote on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial “waters of the U.S.” rule, which has triggered lawsuits from affected parties like coal producer Murray Energy.

Inhofe on Nov. 3 voted in favor of the motion to proceed to S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, a bill that would direct the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule and issue a revised proposal. That motion on S. 1140 failed by a vote of 57 to 41. 

“I am disappointed in Senate Democrats who responded to the president’s veto threat and voted to block debate and an open amendment process on the Federal Water Quality Protection Act,” said Inhofe. “Their action demonstrated a fear to debate a potentially illegal EPA regulation in which two courts have responded with stays, one of which is now in effect nationwide.

“I applaud the courage of Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly, and Claire McCaskill to do the right thing in supporting an attempt to simply proceed to consideration of S.1140 that could have ultimately developed an even more bipartisan product to fix EPA’s reckless rule. The Obama administration’s WOTUS rule is not about clean water, as it shifts the focus from water quality protection and navigable waters to habitat protection and controlling water supply. The Federal Water Quality Protect Act would have continued to protect drinking water while also sending EPA back to the drawing board to develop a more reasonable rule with proper input from appropriate stakeholders and the public. America’s private land owners, ranchers, and farmers deserve better, and I will continue to stand with my colleagues in efforts against this illegal expansion of federal control of private land.”

On Oct. 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay of the final rule, which was promulgated on Jun. 29, in consolidated cases brought by eighteen states, including Oklahoma. The U.S. District Court in North Dakota had previously stayed the rule in thirteen states.

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said about the Nov. 3 vote: “I am pleased that the Senate stopped this attack on the Clean Water Act from moving forward today. Nothing is more important than protecting the lives of the American people, and when we weaken the Clean Water Act, we are putting our families and children at risk. This bill is the opposite of protection – it is pollution – and I will continue to fight these types of attacks on our landmark environmental laws.”

The rule expands EPA authority to very small streams and bodies of water, adding new levels of restriction on development projects, like coal mines, within those watersheds.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.