Clean Water Rule Survives Senate Effort to Kill It

kiran canoe trip.jpg

Today, the Republican-led Senate tried and failed to kill the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Rule. The rule, which was finalized in June and which clarifies what water bodies get the protections of the landmark Clean Water Act, restored safeguards for streams and wetlands that lacked clear protection.

The Senate voted on a motion to take up a bill sponsored by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) that would have killed the rule. As the White House pointed out in threatening a presidential veto of the bill, it would also "require the agencies to define [protected waters] in a manner inconsistent with the [Act] as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in more confusion, uncertainty, and inconsistency," and would "result in higher drinking water treatment costs, increased contamination of fish and shellfish, loss of recreational opportunities including hunting and fishing, and more frequent algal blooms that choke rivers and lakes and make waters unhealthy as a drinking water source or to swim and fish in." The motion to proceed to the bill required 60 votes to pass, and the proponents of the bill fell three votes short.

As Senator Harry Reid of Nevada stressed, the Senate Republican leadership has no plan to help protect the public from water pollution. The majority of Americans support the Clean Water Rule, which ensures that streams and wetlands that can affect drinking water are protected by the Clean Water Act. Instead, Senator Barrasso and his supporters want to leave these waters in limbo and open to threat. Happily, their efforts failed today, after a stalwart defense of clean water protections during the debate led by Senators Boxer, Cardin, Markey, and Whitehouse.

Although this nasty bill has failed, clean water isn't out of the woods yet. As I wrote recently, there is another misguided measure before the Senate -- a resolution to "disapprove" of, and repeal, the Clean Water Rule under the Congressional Review Act. It also could prohibit the agencies from constructing effective replacement rules. That resolution needs just 51 votes to pass. If the Senate takes it up and passes it, the President would surely veto it, and Congress does not have the votes to override such a veto, further illustrating that this week's theatrics in the Senate are just a waste of time.