Cracks in the coalition
By Seymour Klierly
Defending a proposed rule regarding water is tough business, but recent questions may cause the entire Waters of the United States proposal to come crashing down. After the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) announced a definitional change to the Clean Water Act (CWA), partisan backlash was expected. While Congressional Republicans railed against another President Barack Obama regulation, most elected Democrats took a “wait and see” approach.
In May, 231 members of the House of Representatives wrote to the EPA and the Corps asking the agencies to withdraw the proposed rule. While the majority of the House signed the letter, the slant was heavily Republican.
Later in June, Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, and 29 additional Senate Republicans introduced legislation to prevent the agencies from finalizing the proposal. Press releases from the co-sponsors did not hold back any fire for the administration. “The Obama EPA is trying every scheme they can think of to take control of all water in the United States. This time, their unprecedented federal water grab is in the form of a rule that will hurt family farms, ranches and small businesses by imposing outrageous permitting fees and compliance costs,” said Barrasso.
While the American Farm Bureau Federation and aligned groups announced opposition to the rule, the National Farmers Union (NFU) was one the first agriculture groups to work towards defending it. Roger Johnson, president of NFU, was quoted as saying, “I am pleased that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have sent a draft rule to clarify the CWA to the Office of Management and Budget. It is NFU’s hope that this rule will clear up CWA jurisdiction in a way that gives farmers and ranchers more certainty.”
Recently, in a letter to Administrator Gina McCarthy, Roger Johnson noted that, “During our call, a number of questions and concerns were raised by NFU board members,” and later that, “The general sense was that the proposed rule has created less clarity, not more, as was intended.” The organization then asked for clarification on eight issues.
The NFU letter opened the door for elected Democrats to openly question the administration’s proposal. On July 31, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, sent a letter with 12 other Senate Democrats to the agencies. Before asking six detailed questions, the Senators noted, “While we have long been supporters of the Clean Water Act protecting our nation’s water resources, we want to make sure that the proposed jurisdictional rule and the interpretive rule do not have unintended effects on agriculture and on the conservation practices currently used by many of our nation’s farmers and ranchers.”
If staunch supporters of the administration are already openly questioning the possible negative outcomes of the proposal, the agencies will have to work overtime to correct the proposal or maintain a coalition. Otherwise the political process will play out leaving the proposed Waters of the United States rule dead in the water.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.