By Jerry Hagstrom
DTN Political Correspondent
WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The House prepared to vote Tuesday on a bill that would prohibit EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing the Waters of the U.S. rule, following EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy's release on Monday of a new document that attempted to clarify the rule.
The House Rules Committee on Monday issued a rule for debate on H.R. 5078, the "Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014." The White Office of Management and Budget issued a statement opposing the bill. Some Democrats in the House offered amendments that essentially go along with the GOP effort to squash the proposal.
The bill is unlikely to get a floor debate in the Senate, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday. Grassley said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has essentially shelved any legislation involving EPA, including its budget, until after the election to avoid taking up such hot-button topics.
While the Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation and other farm groups have opposed the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule on the grounds it will allow EPA to intrude on farmers' property, the Democratic-leaning Farmers Union has taken a neutral position on the rule and is participating in the rulemaking process. McCarthy spoke to NFU members Monday about WOTUS and the Renewable Fuel Standard.
In her speech, McCarthy called the Farmers Union gracious said she and farm groups have to "get the words right" on the rule. She also noted the NFU was founded in 1902 when Theodore Roosevelt was president and the country was worried about antitrust and monopolistic business practices.
"You are still fighting the good fight," McCarthy said. "I will not underestimate your ability to win and to survive."
"I want to hang out with you," she said. "I know you take tremendous pride in your land. You are not just another industry, you are tied to your land in a way that is personal. I also know you are the experts in what you do. We need to write our policies in ways that convince you we have listened to you."
McCarthy noted that the 1972 Clean Water Act "didn't just defend the mighty Mississippi or the Great Lakes, it was to protect smaller streams from pollution."
That mandate, she said, included protecting "the headwaters" of those smaller streams, and the Supreme Court has raised questions about whether EPA has been doing its job.
WOTUS, she noted, is an attempt to address those court rulings. Clean Water Act permitting, she said, "still only applies when someone proposes to put pollutants into the nation's streams and wetlands" and normal agricultural practices including moving cattle have "always been exempt."
McCarthy said the Farmers Union's leadership has been "gracious enough" to work with her to make the WOTUS rule "one you can be proud of" so that farmers can do their jobs with less fear that someone will be looking over their shoulders. Farmers Union members should find "no surprises with this rule but pleasant ones," she added.
But McCarthy acknowledged that the rule is "complicated" and that she hopes the EPA's latest question-and-answer document will help clarify issues farmers have raised.
Prairie potholes would be "treated as they are treated currently," but EPA is open to providing more certainty on the issue, she said.
Noting that the WOTUS comment period ends October 20, McCarthy concluded that "EPA is not interested in moving forward with a rule that makes farming more difficult. It is about protecting the natural resources."
During a question and answer period, an NFU member said EPA should eliminate the use of the terms "similarly situated, neighboring and adjoining waters."
McCarthy noted that the recently released maps EPA has used "are not indications" of water bodies over which EPA has jurisdiction.
In response to another comment that EPA's farm and ranch advisory committee has become inactive, McCarthy said she would "take that comment home" and she is considering reviving that panel.
On the Renewable Fuel Standard, McCarthy said EPA and OMB, where the rule is now under study, will take into consideration changes in gasoline usage and energy production since the proposed rule was released last spring.
"You will see this rule coming out with changed numbers as a result," McCarthy said.
"Biofuels is just getting to that point that all the investment in this foundation is starting to pay off."
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