U.S. Senators are pressing for a repeal of the U.S. EPA's Waters of the United States proposal, asking instead for a revised water protection rule that would take into account direct comments from industries and people affected by the proposal, like farmers and ranchers.
The bipartisan bill that would direct this change was introduced in the Senate on Thursday. It already has support from one of the most outspoken groups against WOTUS – the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
NCBA's President Philip Ellis on Thursday said that the current proposal, which already has moved through the public comment period and is being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, was developed and reviewed too quickly.
"Finalizing the rule only six months after receiving over one million comments sends a clear message that EPA has no intention of listening to the broad array of stakeholders and is pushing forward with a problematic rule," he said in a statement.
The proposal first appeared last spring after rumblings that the EPA had plans to create guidelines for what could be considered a water of the U.S. and therefore fall under Clean Water Act regulations.
Several farm groups besides the NCBA said the rule could affect rights of private land owners and impede farming activities. But supporters of WOTUS are concerned that without it, water quality could be at risk.
Most ag groups, however, have said before that they remain supportive of going back to the drawing board and crafting a new rule to ensure water quality is protected.
"Our bipartisan bill would give farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to do their jobs and determine how to use their own land," bill sponsor Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said. She explained that specifically in North Dakota, there are flooding and ponding issues – unique considerations that she is concerned won't be addressed in the forthcoming WOTUS rule.
EPA has released broad snippets of information about the rule's contents, but no specific details.
"[Our bill] would help provide … clarity to producers in North Dakota and across the country without confusing federal regulations standing in their way," she said.
Specifically, the bill, The Federal Water Quality Protection Act, would require EPA to propose a new Waters of the U.S. rule that "works better for farmers and communities across the country, taking into consideration local concerns and water conditions." Heitkamp said.
The bill would not affect protections currently in place for existing waters regulated by the Clean Water Act, she said.
That's a proposition that Ellis said NCBA supports. "There is simply no way for EPA to make a few quick fixes and make it work for cattlemen and women," he said. "The agencies need to start over, and this time, talk to stakeholders before drafting a rule."
A similar bill – H.R. 1732, Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015 – to require the EPA and Army Corps to withdraw the Waters of the United States proposal within 30 days, already passed through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by a vote of 36 to 22 earlier this month.
In the Senate, co-sponsors of the WOTUS repeal bill include Senators John Barrasso, R-Wy., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., James Inhofe, R-Okla., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V.