Wicker, Cochran Expect Challenges to Final EPA Rule On Clean Water Regs

Miss. Senators Critical of EPA Push to Expand Regulatory Reach Over Streams, Ponds, Ditches

May 27, 2015

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today said they expect new challenges to final rules issued Wednesday that would greatly expand the reach of the federal government to regulate water sources, including tributaries, ponds and ditches.

The Mississippi Senators have been consistently critical of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effort to rewrite regulations in order to redefine and expand the definition of which waters can be regulated by the Clean Water Act. The EPA on Wednesday issued its final rule for the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulations. The rule will become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

“The Obama Administration is once again giving Washington bureaucrats more control over the lives of Americans, in particular our farmers and ranchers,” Wicker said. “In addition to the burden on private property owners and small businesses, this regulation would take a significant toll on economic growth and pose major challenges for local officials – while failing to provide any clear benefits. This power grab not only challenges the intent of Congress but also defies the decisions of the Supreme Court, which has already ruled on the provision twice.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency is disregarding the input of businesses, agricultural interests, and property owners and asking Mississippians for their blind trust as it implements these far-reaching regulations. People are right to be skeptical,” Cochran said. “I expect that this rule will continue to be challenged in Congress and in the court system. It is a vast and unwarranted expansion of the agency’s authority, and has the potential to place expensive regulatory burdens on every property owner in the country.”

By bringing more waters—including streams, creeks, wetlands, and ponds—under the WOTUS regulations, the EPA would use an expanded interpretation of the Clean Water Act of 1972 to gain federal regulatory control over an unprecedented amount of privately-held land. The final rule could have far-reaching implications for Mississippi’s 10 major river basins and 86,000 miles of streams.

Since the WOTUS regulations were first proposed by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers, Wicker and Cochran have worked to stop the EPA effort to advance the regulations, which have been widely criticized by agriculture and small business sectors. Additionally, the EPA’s use of organized grassroots lobbying efforts has come under scrutiny, with the New York Times reporting on possible legal and ethical violations at the agency. 

The Mississippi Senators have used their committee assignments to challenge the effort, including passing legislation that forced EPA and the Corps to withdraw its agriculture Interpretive Rule that outlined just 56 activities out of more than 160 conservation practices that previously qualified for the normal farming and ranching exemption.

This year, Wicker and Cochran cosponsored the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S.1140), which would block the WOTUS rule and require the EPA to write a new rule by Dec. 31, 2016, that would exempt certain bodies of water – isolated ponds, ditches, agriculture water, storm water, groundwater, floodwater, municipal water supply systems, wastewater management systems, and streams – from Clean Water Act requirements. The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife, on which Wicker serves, conducted a hearing on S.1140 on May 19.