EPA’s Clean-Water Powers Limited in House Measure Obama May Veto

The Environmental Protection Agency’s powers to set clean-water standards would be limited under legislation passed by the Republican-led U.S. House over threats of a veto by the Obama administration.

The bill blocks the EPA from tightening water pollutant limits without a state’s consent if the agency previously approved the state standard. The measure, which passed 239-184 yesterday, is part of an effort to rein in what Republicans say is an agency’s regulatory overreach threatening the economy. Sixteen Democrats joined Republicans to support the measure.

Supporters said limits on the EPA would give farmers, coal companies and other businesses that discharge pollutants into waterways greater certainty that standards won’t be changed.

The EPA is engaged in an “unprecedented regulatory grab” during a “difficult time in our economy,” Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said during debate.

The bill is the “single-worst assault on clean-water protections in a generation,” Steve Fleischli, a senior attorney at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

Democrats said the EPA should retain its authority to supersede state rules because pollution crosses political boundaries.

Advisers to President Barack Obama will recommend a veto if the legislation passes Congress, according to an administration statement issued yesterday. The measure must also pass the Senate before being sent to the president.

Health, Economy

The bill “would significantly undermine the Clean Water Act and could adversely affect public health, the economy, and the environment,” the administration said.

Supporters of the bill cited the EPA’s decision in January to revoke a federal permit granted in 2007 to the Spruce No. 1 mountaintop mine in Logan County, West Virginia, operated by St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc. The EPA said the mine operations were “destructive and unsustainable.” The legislation would prohibit such actions without state concurrence.

House Republicans are pursuing other measures to restrict the EPA. The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill on July 12 to cut the EPA budget to $7.1 billion, or 20 percent less than Obama requested.

The spending bill also would delay rules limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from industrial polluters such as power plants and oil refineries.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a bill on July 12 that postpones a clean-air rule targeting pollution that leads to smog and soot.

The bill is H.R. 2018.

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