The House of Representatives has approved a bill that would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing a proposed rule that seeks to clarify when a federal permit is needed for construction projects that disturb wetlands and streams.
The House approved the bill on Sept. 9 by a bipartisan 262-152 vote. But with only a few weeks left in the legislative session and a Democratic majority in the Senate, the bill's prospects in the Senate are uncertain. President Obama has threated to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.
The legislation, which Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) sponsored, would bar EPA and the Corps from issuing a final version of the regulation and implementing it. It also would give state and local officials more authority in issuing permits. At issue is which types of waters are “waters of the United States" and thus federally regulated under the Clean Water Act.
The bill’s supporters say the proposed regulation, which the EPA and the Corps issued in April, would expand the scope of federal jurisdiction over bodies of water.
Environmental groups disagree, contending the proposal would end the current uncertainty over when a federal permit is needed by clearly defining the types of streams and wetlands that fall under Corps and EPA authority.
Construction-industry organizations cheered the House vote. Cary Cohrs, Portland Cement Association board chairman, in a statement said the bill would “establish necessary safeguards that preserve the important role of federal-state partnerships.”
The proposed EPA-Corps regulation would increase the number of federal operating and preconstruction permits for the cement sector and, overall, the construction industry overall, Cohrs added.
The National Association of Home Builders said the proposed regulation would widen EPA’s jurisdiction to cover virtually any body of water, including ditches, mudflats and prairie potholes.
But Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, in a statement said the House-passed bill would “make it easier for corporations to pollute American waters and harder for the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the law."
He added, "After years of confusion, EPA is now working to clarify which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.”