Water Quality
November 10 2015

Fate of the Clean Water Rule rests in the President’s Hand.

by Mara Dias

Since the EPA proposed the Clean Water Rule to clarify which waters are protected under the Clean Water Act last year, the rule has faced heated opposition from polluters who don't want to change the way they are doing things and the agriculture lobby that has spread untruths about the reach of this administrative action.  With this Rule, the EPA is just trying to clarify waters that are protected under the Clean Water Act, and restoring the law's authority to what it once was before the Supreme Court made jurisdiction unclear in two bad rulings in 2001 and 2006.  It isn't a land grab, and farms will continue to enjoy all of the exemptions they always have under the Clean Water Act. 

There is currently a four-pronged attack being waged on the Clean Water Rule.  First, a circuit court has ordered a national stay on implementation, while the judicial system considers lawsuits filed by over 30 states are heard.  Surfrider reported on this here. 

Secondly, Congress has tried to defeat the Clean Water Rule by placing restrictions, or 'dirty water riders', on federal spending bills that would prevent the EPA from implementing the Rule.  Thus far this avenue has not been successful, and opponents in Congress will need to be careful if they try this tack again, as the success of their recently agreed upon budget deal that will prevent another government shutdown depends on both sides of the aisle agreeing to a clean federal spending bill with no policy riders attached.  Learn more about how the budget deal affects this and other Clean Water programs here

Thirdly, Senator Barrasso submitted the misnamed Federal Water Quality Protection Act, which instead of protecting Clean Water, would force the EPA to drop the current rule, ignore a robust and exhaustive scientific and public input records, and start at scratch and develop a new rule that would not cause so much grief for those industries that want to continue to pollute our water and destroy wetlands without interference from the federal government.  The House passed a similar bill earlier this year, but with a 57-41 vote, largely falling along party lines, the bill failed to get the required 60 votes to pass the Senate last week.  The Clean Water Rule also was supported by Independents King (ME) and Sanders (VT).

Unfortunately, the fourth line of attack, proved more successful.  A Resolution of Disapproval submitted by Senator Ernst from Iowa under the Congressional Review Act only needed a majority to pass.  This Resolution effectively would kill the Clean Water Rule, and it passed a Senate vote by 55:43, again reflecting party lines with the exception of Senator Collins (R from Maine) voting against it.  Learn more about these votes and attacks on Clean Water here:  ThinkProgress.org   &  NRDC Staff Blog

Now what???

The House of Representatives will likely soon pass a similar Resolution of Disapproval and then it goes to the President's desk for signature.  President Obama has threatened to veto this bill, and we hope he remains true to his word! 

Nearly 20 million acres of wetlands and two million miles of streams that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans depends on it.