Farm Progress

WOTUS repeal bill goes to president

Four Democrats join Republicans in 53-43 vote

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

March 30, 2023

3 Min Read
water ditch between fields
Getty Images

The Senate passed a bill that would repeal the Biden administration’s controversial Waters of the United States rule. Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Jacky Rosen of Nevada, along with Krysten Sinema, I- Ariz., joined their Republican colleagues to pass the bill.

The House approved the measure earlier this month with nine Democrats, including Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott, D-GA, joining the Republican effort. The bill now goes to President Biden for his approval.

Biden has already said he plans to veto the bill. While Republicans may not have the 60 votes necessary to override the veto, they have forced him to take a stand on a rule that’s been unpopular among farmers and ranchers.

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture applauded the vote, crediting House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Grave, R-Mo., and Senate Environment and Public Works Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito, R- W.Va., for pushing the bill through.

“The recent WOTUS ruling failed to provide clarity and certainty for farmers and landowners, and it disregarded the Clean Water Act’s statutory mandate for cooperative federalism,” NASDA CEO Ted McKinney says. “While we await the Supreme Court’s ruling in Sackett v. EPA, NASDA continues to work at the state and local level with those tasked with implementing the recent WOTUS rule and provide as much guidance and perspective to them as possible.”

The Sackett Case pits an Idaho landowner against the EPA. Many observers expect the court to side with the Sackett family and limit some of EPA’s regulatory authority. The case was heard in October, but a ruling is not expected until late spring or early summer.

At issue is what waters the EPA is allowed to regulate under the Clean Water Act. That definition has changed several times due to various court rulings and changes in the executive branch. Biden administration officials touted their new rule as a way to clarify those issues. Critics contend it further muddies the waters and was issued as a preventative measure against the potential Supreme Court ruling.

Several lawsuits have been filed in response to the new rule. This month, a judge invalidated the law in Idaho and Texas.

While WOTUS has many critics, not everyone is looking to overturn it. The Sierra Club praised Biden’s WOTUS rule, calling it an important step toward restoring protections for waters critical to the health of communities across the country.

“For years, big polluters like the oil and gas industry and their pro-polluter conspirators in Congress have been trying to chip away and gut our bedrock environmental and public health protections in the name of profit for the wealthy few,” Sierra Club Clean Water Director Beth Roach said shortly after the new rule was announced. “They are creating water pollution and water crises in their wake, of which low-income communities and communities of color bear the biggest brunt.”

Agriculture producers contend the rule is an example of government overreach. They note that under the terms of the current WOTUS rule, small water features on private land could be subject to EPA scrutiny. American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall says he is pleased that a majority of Senators have sent a message to EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that the “overreaching” rule will lead to more uncertainty for American farmers and ranchers.

“Farmers and ranchers are committed to protecting the land and water they rely on to grow food for America’s families,” Duvall said. “Unfortunately, the 2023 WOTUS threatens the progress made to responsibly manage natural resources. We urge President Biden to recognize the concerns from members of both parties and rescind this troubled rule.”

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About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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