Contrary to what the headlines are telling you, there’s more going on in Congress than the debate over “fast track” free trade agreements. At the end of last month, the Obama Administration worked via the EPA to drastically expand the power federal regulators have over private property owners.
The new “Waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) rule (re-dubbed the “Clean Water Rule”) was decried as a power grab by both industry moguls and conservative members of Congress, who believe the changes stand to kill jobs and raise the cost of doing business, especially for those working in the agricultural industries.
Republican Congressman Bob Gibbs (OH-7) is leading the charge in the House to overturn the WOTUS rule. The Regulatory Integrity Protection Act passed out of the House in mid-May with bipartisan support (237 republicans and 24 democrats voted for the measure) and if enacted, would force the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to overhaul the new rules to specifically identify waters covered and not covered under EPA regulations. The Act would put an emphasis on local control and individual property rights, which Gibbs says should be a key concern for anyone who stands to be affected by and increased EPA presence.
“This is nothing but a power grab. It’s about control,” Gibbs told me over the phone. A former hog farmer, Gibbs’ understanding of this issue reaches beyond Capitol Hill, which is why his efforts focus less on simply nailing the EPA to the wall and more on putting the skids to what he describes as a “massive control of land use.” According to Gibbs, the new rules erode progress made under the current system, as opposed to enhancing protections, and could actually discourage cooperation between businessmen and the federal government by complicating permit protocols, increasing costs, and straining the presence of local control.
Last week, a Senate committee voted along party lines to approve a similar WOTUS repeal plan penned by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). The measure itself is, like Gibbs’ in the House, bipartisan, but by a much smaller margin; just over 20 Senate democrats support it, and the rest of the caucus is already on a crusade against changes to the EPA’s newfound scope of power:
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, accused Republicans of sponsoring “a back-door repeal of the Clean Water Act,” since it would remove significant areas that are under the law’s protection.
“Today, we’re considering legislation that would undermine one of our nation’s landmark laws, the Clean Water Act and roll back protections for the American people, their drinking water,” she said.
“When we weaken the Clean Water Act, as this bill will do, we’re putting the lives of our people in danger,” she continued.
Boxer and other Democrats proposed five amendments aimed at preserving parts of the regulation, including protections for drinking water, public health and the costs to states. All the amendments failed along party lines.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) voted against the bill, but he applauded some provisions of the bill.
“At the end of the day, some of the things that Sen. Barrasso has called for in his bill deserve support,” he said, pointing to protections for local communities and a mandate that the EPA publish maps on the rule’s reach.
Lawmakers believe that Barrasso’s bill will have major trouble garnering enough support to move on to the House, even with activists and conservative lawmakers using every opportunity to highlight problems with the new EPA regulations. Part of the problem rests fully in the lap of the Obama Administration, which Gibbs says is fighting tooth and nail to protect their latest expansion of power. A veto-proof coalition seems like a pipe dream as well, in spite of already-bipartisan opposition.
How do we fight, then? By putting pressure on the Administration at every opportunity. Republicans don’t yet have a majority sufficient to override a presidential veto, but they can host and broadcast oversight hearings that will put the EPA and other Administration officials in the spotlight, and force them to explain themselves.
As with other controversial issues (think Iran, Obamacare) Republicans on some level are forced to hang on until 2017—at least as far as their legislative authority is concerned.
“This is going to end up in the courts,” said Gibbs. “There’s no doubt about that.”DONATE
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