House Republicans on Tuesday voted to block government rules that would clarify which streams, tributaries and wetlands should be protected from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act.
The rules proposed last year by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have fueled political anger in the country's heartland, becoming a top issue of concern for many farmers and landowners who say there are already too many government regulations affecting their businesses.
The House bill, approved 261-155, would force the EPA to withdraw the rules and further consult with state and local officials before rewriting it. The White House has threatened to veto the legislation.
The EPA says its water rules simply clarify — and don't expand — what smaller bodies of water are regulated under the Clean Water Act. Administrator Gina McCarthy says one out of three Americans gets their drinking water from sources that aren't clearly protected, and the rules would make sure those waters aren't polluted.
EPA officials have acknowledged they may not have written the proposal clearly enough, and said final rules expected in the coming months will better define which waters would fall under the law.
The agency says the rules are necessary to make clear which waters are regulated under the Clean Water Act in the wake of decades-long uncertainty and two U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the issue. The 2001 and 2006 decisions limited regulators' reach but left unclear the scope of authority over some small waterways, like those that flow intermittently.
Democrats said blocking the rules could mean even more uncertainty for landowners who don't know if waters on their land are regulated. They said the GOP bill is premature because the EPA and Army Corps have not yet released the revised, final version of the rules.