U.S. House Votes to Scale Back WOTUS Rule

The U.S. House of Representatives voted on March 9 to undo a Biden administration definition of wetlands that allows for regulations on private lands.

The chamber approved, 227-198, a resolution to roll back the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s broader definition of what qualifies as “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, for the purposes of federal regulation under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The move is most likely symbolic, as it faces a tough challenge in the Senate and President Joe Biden has said he intends to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the new definition in late 2021 and the final rule goes into effect on March 20 if it is not halted through congressional action.

The House vote added to the recent history of expanding and contracting definitions on regulatable wetlands. The EPA near the end of President Barack Obama’s administration in 2015 finalized a regulation holding that any standing water that eventually drained into a navigable waterway or drinking water supply could be regulated by federal authorities.

Under President Donald Trump, however, the EPA narrowed that definition in 2020. Biden then reopened the issue and claimed a broader definition allowing for more CWA enforcement.

NGWA has long held the position that groundwater is best managed at the state and regional levels and should remain outside of federal jurisdiction. In fact, the Association submitted comments in early 2022 urging the EPA to keep groundwater largely out of the scope of WOTUS and the CWA.

“While this bill will ultimately be doomed in either the Senate or by presidential veto, it is a strong symbolic statement against the expanding definition of waters of the United States,” said Ben Frech, NGWA public relations and government affairs manager. “This vote represents a widely held feeling that if the judicial footprint of WOTUS is going to continue to grow, that it should require more input from our country’s elected representatives and the communities they serve.”