Dems aim to strip water, wetland provisions from Interior-EPA bill

Democrats say they hope to strike seven provisions tucked into the House 2012 spending bill for U.S. EPA and the Interior Department that would block or otherwise undo Obama administration regulations aimed at protecting clean water and wetlands.

The sections of the 160-page bill Democrats are targeting would block EPA efforts to expand Clean Water Act protections over water and wetlands, issue new rules concerning stormwater runoff, tighten water pollution limits in the state of Florida and require that ships better treat ballast water to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species, among others.

Not all of the Democratic amendments will necessarily receive a vote. But Democratic House leaders say they are prepared for a long battle on the House floor in the coming days over the GOP's more than three dozen anti-regulatory policy riders.

"We're going to go amendment after amendment after amendment on this," said Washington Rep. Norm Dicks, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. "Not a filibuster ... but they're going to hear a lot about a lot of issues" (E&E Daily, July 25).

Even if the GOP-controlled House approves a bill with the riders in place, many will likely never see a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But the riders that do make it before the Senate will face the same opposition, Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin said yesterday.

"We'll fight every one of them," Cardin said. "I expect there will be some that appropriators will try to deal with. I'll be raising objections to any one that affects clean air or clean water."

The seven sections that concern water and wetlands that Democrats hope to strike are:

  • Section 43, waters of the United States -- This provision seeks to nullify recently released EPA guidance that instructs regulators to more broadly interpret the Clean Water Act to ensure that more waters, streams and wetlands are federally protected. The section says that no money may be used "to develop, adopt, implement, administer, or enforce a change or supplement" to the definition of waters under the Clean Water Act.
  • Section 438, silvacultural activities -- This would insert a loophole into the Clean Water Act for the timber industry that would prevent EPA from requiring a permit for stormwater that runs off roads associated with tree farming.
  • Section 439, stormwater discharge -- This language would block funding "for the development, adoption, implementation, or enforcement" of regulations or guidance that would expand stormwater runoff cleanup requirements to include post-construction commercial or residential properties until 90 days after EPA submits a study of the regulatory options, including a cost-benefit analysis.
  • Section 452, Florida water quality standards -- This section would prohibit money from being used "to implement, administer, or enforce" the tougher, numbers-based water pollution limits that EPA mandated for Florida's rivers, lakes and streams in December of last year. EPA agreed to enact the tougher limits as part of a settlement with environmental groups who had sued the agency, alleging not enough was being done to protect the state's waterways for algae blooms, fish kills, red tides and the like.
  • Section 456, wetlands designations in emergencies -- This would prevent any areas that suffered the most devastating flooding this year from being declared wetlands and, thus, off-limits to construction. The language says funds may not be used "to delineate new wetlands in any county included in a major disaster declaration as a result of flooding in the year 2011."
  • Section 459, ballast water management regulations -- This provision would strip funding from Great Lakes states for enacting rules for ballast water treatment, designed to prevent the transport and spread of aquatic invasive species that can disrupt or destroy native fish populations, that are more stringent or include shorter implementation timelines than federal regulations.
  • Title V, "Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011" -- The section includes the full text of a House-passed bill meant to exempt pesticide users who spray over water from having to obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act (E&E Daily, July 8).

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