After senators backing legislation designed to force a revision of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule fell short of the 60 votes necessary to send the measure to a full debate Tuesday, the bill’s Republican supporters moved quickly – and successfully – to voice Senate disapproval of the WOTUS regulation under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
Requiring only a simple majority to pass, the CRA resolution was approved 55-43, with three Democrats voting with the Republican majority. Under the CRA resolution, which would have to be approved by the House and also avoid a presidential veto to take effect, the WOTUS rule would be eliminated, not just revised.
Since the CRA went into effect in 1996, only three resolutions – including yesterday’s CRA vote in the Senate – have passed at least one house of Congress. And only one federal regulation – a Department of Labor rule on ergonomics – has actually been eliminated under CRA, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Supporters of the unsuccessful bill to force EPA to revise its WOTUS rule, S. 1140, say it was intended to balance private landowners’ rights with the need to protect waters from pollution. The CRA resolution, if ultimately successful, would prevent EPA from writing any rule that is essentially the same as the one eliminated by the congressional action.
“The heart of this debate is about how much authority the federal government and unelected bureaucrats have to regulate what is done on private land,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told Farm Futures.
Again, for the WOTUS legislation to be eliminated, the resolution still requires House approval and President Obama’s signature. The White House opposes Ernst’s resolution.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Obama administration said, “The agencies’ rulemaking, grounded in science and the law, is essential to ensure clean water for future generations, and is responsive to calls for rulemaking from the Congress, industry, and community stakeholders as well as decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
On Oct. 9, enforcement of the WOTUS rule was halted by a preliminary injunction. In handing down the injunction, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said its decision resulted from “the whirlwind of confusion” surrounding the new rule’s requirements.
After the CRA resolution passed the Senate, Ernst said, “The expanded definition of WOTUS breeds confusion, uncertainty and more red tape. I am pleased that our proposal ensures every option is on the table to push back against the EPA’s blatant power grab.”