On January 13, 2016 the U.S. House of Representatives voted 253-166 to approve (S.J. Res. 22) a joint Congressional “resolution of disapproval” for the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule. Under the Congressional Review Act, the House and Senate can pass a resolution of disapproval to stop regulations they feel overstepped the agency’s authority. The Resolution vacates the WOTUS rule published on June 29, 2015, by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) which would redefine “waters of the United States.” This rule significantly expands the scope of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Resolution would vacate the rule and prohibit the issuance of any new rule substantially similar to the WOTUS rule.
This recent House vote is the companion vote on the resolution which the Senate passed last November by a vote of 53-44.
So what does this mean? The simple answer is probably not much.
The resolution must be signed into law to become effective, and the Obama administration has indicated the President will veto the legislation. Neither the House nor the Senate appears to have the two thirds votes necessary to override a presidential veto.
The Obama administration supports the WOTUS rule and says the Rule would safeguard drinking water for 117 million people. Opponents of the Rule, argue the regulations are costly, confusing and are an overreach of federal authority over previously unregulated bodies of water.
Although the drama on Capitol Hill over the WOTUS rule seems to be leading to inevitable conclusion, the legal battle over it will continue to play out in courtrooms across the country throughout the year.
On October 9, 2015, following an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota, the United States Circuit Court for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay of the WOTUS rule. The stay halted implementation of the WOTUS rule, pending resolution of jurisdictional issues that were the subject of oral argument on December 8, 2015. Those jurisdictional issues are focused on whether the Sixth Circuit is the proper venue to hear challenges to the rule. A ruling is expected in 2016.
Further, a number of district court cases across the country also remain pending, and the District of North Dakota’s earlier injunction against implementation of the WOTUS rule in 13 states, including Missouri, remains in place.
If you wish to read our previous posts on the WOTUS rule use “WOTUS” as a search term for this blog.