WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress approved a resolution on the overthrow on Wednesday Biden administration safeguards for the country’s waterways, which Republicans have criticized as a drain on the economy, and pushing ahead with a measure President Joe Biden has promised he will veto.
Republicans have targeted the Biden administration’s protections for thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways, calling it an ecological overstatement that hurts businesses, developers and farmers.
They used the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to block recently enacted Executive Branch regulations. The Senate on Wednesday voted 53 to 43 to finalize legislative approval of the measure. Four Democrats and Independent Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema joined Republicans to vote in favor of the resolution.
“The overreach is fundamentally unreal,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D.-W. Va., a critic of some of the White House’s environmental policies.
The Senate vote is the latest development in a long-running battle over the definition of “United States waters,” which sets the breadth of protection provided by the Clean Water Act. Environmentalists and the Biden administration have pushed for expanding the definition and protecting more waterways from pollution, while right-wing groups and the Trump administration have argued that protecting fewer waterways would benefit builders, farmers and businesses.
In early March, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved Resolution 227-198. A resolution of the Congressional Review Act requires a simple majority in both houses and cannot be defeated by filibuster.
Water conservation is “very symbolic and polarized,” according to Julian Gonzalez, legal counsel at Earthjustice. He said moderate Democrats could vote for the resolution to demonstrate their independence from the Biden administration’s environmental agenda.
“The perceived impact won’t be that significant because the president will veto it so they can somehow achieve their goal without doing as much damage,” Gonzalez said, adding that supporting efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act be short-sighted.
In December, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army Corps of Engineers overturned those of the Trump administration business friendly rule that reduced the protection. Since the Biden administration enacted its broader rule, Republicans have targeted it in court and in Congress.
This month, a federal judge paused ruled Texas and Idaho in a victory for Republican litigation. Right-leaning states have argued in court that the rule is too vague and would create unacceptable economic hardship.
The Supreme Court is also reviewing a related case brought by an Idaho couple fighting a demand that they get a permit to build their home near a lake after the EPA found that part of their property was a regulated wetland. Judges heard arguments in the Sackett v. EPA case in October and a decision is expected in the next few months.
“(Biden’s water rule is) will be costly, it will be disruptive, and it will place a burden of federal regulation where it has never been before: on many of our private landowners,” Sen. Shelley Moore said in Capito, RW. Va.
Democrats have a 51-49 Senate majority, but Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., is hospitalized and being treated for depression and is unavailable to vote. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are also absent.
The Biden administration’s rule is based on a pre-2015 definition of “United States waters” but is streamlined and includes updates to reflect court judgments, scientific understanding and decades of experience, Radhika Fox, EPA assistant water administrator, previously said to The Associated Press. She added that the rule slightly increases the protection of some streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds.
The new rule repeated the Trump-era rule that was completed in 2020 and had broad support from agricultural departments and companies that wanted less regulation for private property. Environmental groups said Trump-era rules left too many waterways unprotected from pollutants.
Senate Democrats Manchin, Montana’s Jon Tester, and two Nevada Senators, Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, supported the resolution. Sinema also voted in favour. ___
Phillis reported from St. Louis.
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