Obama vetoes Congressional move to block his ‘waters of the U.S.’ rule

President Barack Obama sent a Jan. 19 letter to the U.S. Senate saying that he has vetoed S.J. Res 22, which would have repealed the administration’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule, which is opposed by various industries, including coal mining and power generation.

“I am returning herewith without my approval S.J. Res. 22, a resolution that would nullify a rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army to clarify the jurisdictional boundaries of the Clean Water Act,” said the veto message. “The rule, which is a product of extensive public involvement and years of work, is critical to our efforts to protect the Nation’s waters and keep them clean; is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders; and is consistent with decisions of the United States Supreme Court.”

The Obama letter added: “We must protect the waters that are vital for the health of our communities and the success of our businesses, agriculture, and energy development. As I have noted before, too many of our waters have been left vulnerable. Pollution from upstream sources ends up in the rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and coastal waters near which most Americans live and on which they depend for their drinking water, recreation, and economic development. Clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act helps to protect these resources and safeguard public health. Because this resolution seeks to block the progress represented by this rule and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty and clarity needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water, I cannot support it. I am therefore vetoing this resolution.”

Republican leadership who oppose the rule are not expected to have the votes to override the veto. The rule has been appealed, several times over, by various factions at the federal court level, with those appeals to play out over the next few months.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) on Jan. 13 had expressed appreciation for House passage of this resolution over the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule. Electric co-ops have expressed strong concern that the rule would dramatically expand federal regulation of waterways in a manner that would undermine their ability to build and maintain critical infrastructure. 

“Electric cooperatives maintain more than 2.5 million miles of distribution power lines that cover 75 percent of our country’s landmass, including waterways,” said Debbie Wing, NRECA director of media relations. “As it now stands, WOTUS would create permitting requirements for so-called ‘waters’ never previously regulated, such as isolated ponds and places that only contain water after it rains.  Requiring permits for these newly-identified waters would increase the time, uncertainty and cost for building and maintaining our transmission and distribution infrastructure.”

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., issued a Jan. 20 statement condemning the veto.

“This WOTUS rule is anti-jobs, anti-farmer, anti-business, and anti-common sense,” Shuster said. “It was cooked up by the Administration without legitimately taking into consideration the concerns of states, local governments, private citizens, or anyone that it will actually impact. Congress clearly told the President what Pennsylvanians and the American people know: this WOTUS rule is nothing more than a costly federal power grab. It’s truly a shame that he has not listened.”

“This rule has been challenged by 32 states and the two courts that have looked at it so far have already determined it is likely illegal and have stopped the rule from going into effect while the litigation continues,” Inhofe said. “So, the view that WOTUS is an illegal and unprecedented power grab that would significantly impact our nation’s farmers, ranchers, landowners, and local governments is widely held. Further, in December, the Government Accountability Office issued a legal decision finding that EPA’s efforts to solicit support for this rule constituted covert propaganda and lobbying, which is an illegal use of taxpayer dollars. In the president’s State of the Union speech, he said he wanted to cut red tape – how about starting with the WOTUS rule?”

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.