The Obama administration’s plan to expand protections for waterways and keep them free of pollutants would be blocked by a measure the U.S. House passed on Tuesday.
Farmers, ranchers, builders and manufacturers backed the effort in the Republican-led House to halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s work on the new standards, and begin a lengthy process to rework the plan.
“This rule would threaten jobs and result in costly litigation,” Pennsylvania Republican Bill Shuster, the measure’s primary sponsor, said before the vote. “With this bill we can tell the administration and the EPA to do it right this time.”
The dispute over what is deemed a “water of the U.S.” and subject to federal oversight is one of this year’s most pitched environmental battles, drawing bipartisan condemnation. A similar bipartisan measure is advancing in the Senate. President Barack Obama’s administration threatened to veto it.
The House bill Tuesday passed 261-155, short of a veto-proof majority.
The EPA wants to put under federal jurisdiction ponds or streams that have a significant nexus to a larger river, lake or bay, even if the smaller body of water flows just a few weeks a year. Opponents fear it could mean permission would be needed from federal regulators to even dig a small ditch or install a culvert.
The EPA says a revamp is necessary to clarify guidelines made muddy by Supreme Court rulings, and it has pledged to fix problems farmers and lawmakers raised about its proposal in the final regulation. That rule is set to be issued as soon as next month.
“I would not rise to support the proposed rule,” Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio said. “But I would suggest a better way to proceed is let them publish the final rule,” and then take action if it’s not fixed, he said.
The House measure would force the agency to withdraw its plan and consult state leaders before issuing a new version.