The Senate voted 53 to 44 on a resolution to block a big Environmental Protection Agency power grab, which if successful, would have allowed the agency essentially limitless regulatory authority over water.
Three Democrats, Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, joined every Republican except Maine Senator Susan Collins in advancing the bill. The resolution would prevent the implementation of the rule, but President Barack Obama is likely to veto it.
The EPA’s power grab would replace the phrase “Navigable Waters” in the Clean Water Act with “Waters Of The United States,” immensely expanding the agency’s authority. The legal term “navigable” has been determined by the Supreme Court to only includes rivers, lakes, bays, and other relatively large bodies of water. The EPA wants to use the act to regulate ditches.
EPA has long tried to redefine the term “navigable waters” more broadly, in one case claiming that artificially damp land in a desert was “navigable water.” The stakes are particularly high for farmers and ranchers, who would have to spend time and money obtaining EPA permits to continue using their own land. A redefinition has the potential to cause “costly and time consuming delays” in permitting new development according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. The average permit applicant spends 788 days and $271,596 on an application.
In 2009, former Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold introduced the Clean Water Restoration Act which would have empowered the EPA by removing the term “navigable” from the law all-together. The legislation went nowhere and Feingold was defeated in 2010 by current Republican Sen. Ron Johnson who strongly opposes the redefinition.
“The EPA’s overreach is one of the clearest examples of how Ron Johnson is standing up for farmers and manufacturers in Wisconsin and around the country – and how Senator Feingold has long since sold them down the river.” said Ron Johnson campaign spokesperson Brian Reisinger in an email to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
After the failure to push the redefinition through the legislative process, the EPA continued where Congress declined to act and is presently attempting to change its interpretation of the act through the rule-making process, against the will of a majority of US Senators.