Ag Policy Blog

Senators Get Floor Debate on WOTUS

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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U.S. senators on Tuesday will get to have a daylong floor debate on EPA/Army Corps of Engineers rule redefining the waters of the United States -- what we acronym-loving creatures disdainfully call the WOTUS rule.

S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, is bipartisan bill pushed initially by Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., along with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming. The bill has 46 sponsors, including three Democrats, Sens Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin signed on a co-sponsors.

Republicans need 60 votes to move beyond the debate cloture vote. The party breakdown includes 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two independents who largely side with Democrats. So it will be a close vote to see if Republicans can convince a few more Democrats to require EPA to take the WOTUS rule back to the drawing board.

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers rolled out the proposed rule last year and it has been the center of a regulatory battleground ever since. Farm groups and others argue the rule creates incredibly broad regulatory interpretations defining what constitutes a federally regulated waterway. Once it became final over the summer, litigation began. The rule now is under a nationwide injunction blocking it following a ruling last month by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. A copy of that decision can be found here:…

In the midst of this regulatory fight, EPA's credibility was damaged by the Animas mine spill in Colorado by EPA contractors.

The Senate bill would require extensive consultation with state and local officials before agencies could redefine the waters of the U.S. That consultation would include defining the role of the state in identifying waters subject to federal jurisdiction.

The bill also specifically excludes EPA from incorporating tiling or sheetflow water drainage in any definition of "surface hydrologic connection. Excluded from such a definition would be "the movement of water through soil, subsurface tiles or a groundwater aquifer"

Under the bill, the term "waters of the United States" would not include any water below the surface of the land, including groundwater. Also not considered a waters of the U.S. would be isolated ponds, whether natural or manmade, including farm ponds, fish ponds, quarries, mine pits, swimming pools, ornamental ponds, fire control or sediment ponds, or any other isolated system holding water.

Agricultural stormwater or return flows from irrigated farms would also be exempt from permitting.

Agricultural groups strongly back S. 1140 and are pushing back against attempts by EPA to put the WOTUS rule into effect.

The House voted on a similar bill in May that passed with a 261-155 vote. That vote wasn't large enough to override a potential veto.…

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