Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Just in

Blink and you might miss them: Lawmakers return briefly to Capitol Hill

Washington—Congressional lawmakers are back in Washington, D.C., this week, but not for long. The House plans 12 legislative days before adjourning for the November election, while the Senate hopes to adjourn by Sept. 23. 

   With little time to waste, House lawmakers are expected this week to take up a bill that would prohibit EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers from developing, finalizing, adopting, implementing, applying, administering, or enforcing the proposed "waters of the U.S.” rule.    

Farmers, ranchers and many others are opposed to the rule because it could ultimately lead to the unlawful expansion of federal regulation to cover routine farming and ranching practices as well as other common private land uses, such as building homes. Among other things, the rule would expand federal control over land features such as ditches and areas of agricultural land that are wet only during storms.    

The Farm Bureau-supported Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014 (H.R. 5078) would do the following three things: Prevent the agencies from using the rule as a basis for future administrative actions that would undermine the federal-state partnership or usurp Congress’ express authority to change the scope of the Clean Water Act through a redefinition of “waters of the United States”; prevent the agencies from developing guidance that would expand the scope of waters covered by the CWA; and prevent the agencies from implementing the interpretive rule.     

Reps. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) will likely offer the Agricultural Conservation Flexibility Act (H.R. 5071) as an amendment to Waters of the United States Regulatory Overreach Protection Act of 2014. Ribble and Schrader’s measure, also backed by farmers and ranchers, clarifies that all soil and water conservation activities fall under the Clean Water Act Section 404(f)(1) exemption for normal farming, ranching, and silviculture activities.   
Whether the House bills will be taken up in the Senate remains very much up in the air. One issue that will almost certainly be addressed in both chambers is the federal government’s budget.  With mid-term elections looming, neither Republicans nor Democrats have any interest in dealing with even the remote possibility of another government shutdown. Over the August recess, Republican and Democratic leaders agreed on a plan to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government going through December, when lawmakers will return to wrap up their second session of the 113th Congress. 

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