WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday voted to overturn the Biden administration’s protections for thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways, advancing long-held Republican arguments that the regulations are an environmental overreach and burden to business.
The vote was 227-198 to overturn the rule.
House Republicans used the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to block recently enacted executive-branch regulations. The measure now heads to the Senate, where Republicans hope to attract Democratic senators wary of Biden's environmental policies. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a frequent Biden antagonist, has already pledged to support the overturn of a rule he calls federal overreach.
Biden said he would veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
The clean water rule was finalized in December and defines which “waters of the United States” are protected under the Clean Water Act, the nation's primary anti-water pollution law. The rule has long been a flashpoint between environmentalists, who want to broaden limits on pollution entering the nation’s waters, and farmers, builders and industry groups that say extending regulations too far is onerous for business.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repealed the Trump administration’s business-friendly rule that scaled back protections.
Republicans have targeted the regulation in Congress and in court, where at least five federal lawsuits are challenging the EPA rule. The Supreme Court is considering a related case by an Idaho couple who have been blocked for more than 15 years from building a home near a lake after the EPA determined that part of the property was a wetlands that could not be disturbed without a permit.
A decision in the case, known as Sackett v. EPA, is expected this year.
House Republicans said their measure eases regulatory burdens for small businesses, manufacturers, farmers and “everyday Americans” by invalidating the Biden rule.
“American families, farmers, small businesses and entire communities are suffering under the economic crises caused by the disastrous Biden policies of the last two years. The last thing they need is this administration’s inexplicable decision to move the country back toward the overreaching, costly and burdensome regulations of the past, which is exactly what this WOTUS rule does,” said Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, using a nickname for the rule favored by Republicans.
The EPA rule "needs to be repealed so Americans across the country are protected from subjective regulatory overreach making it harder to farm, build and generate economic prosperity,” added Rep. David Rouzer, R-N.C., chairman of a House subcommittee on water resources and the environment.
Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington state, the top Democrat on the infrastructure panel, said the Biden rule seeks to balance the need to protect waters and wetlands with the goals of the Clean Water Act and sometimes conflicting opinions of the Supreme Court.
“The Biden rule is not perfect. But, in my opinion, it is a far better starting place for certainty, legality and protecting the quality of our nation’s waters than the (Trump-era) Dirty Water Rule,'' Larsen said.
The GOP bid to overturn the Biden rule is likely to create more uncertainty and further muddle which waters remain protected by the Clean Water Act, he said.
A Congressional Review Act resolution requires a simple majority in both chambers and can’t be filibustered. Democrats hold a 51-49 Senate majority, but Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., is in the hospital being treated for depression and is unavailable for votes.
Manchin, who represents an energy-producing state and frequently clashes with Democrats on environmental issues, said the Biden rule "would interject further regulatory confusion, place unnecessary burdens on small businesses, farmers and local communities, and cause serious economic damage.”
The White House said in a statement that the clean water rule will reliably guide business and agriculture, adding that overturning the rule would create more uncertainty.
Nine Democrats voted to overturn the water rule: Reps. Sanford Bishop and David Scott of Georgia; Jim Costa and Jimmy Panetta of California; Angie Craig of Minnesota; Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas; Donald Davis of North Carolina; and Jared Golden of Maine.
Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick was the sole Republican to oppose the overturn effort.
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