U.S. President Joe Biden's vow to veto a Republican-led resolution that would gut his administration's water protections did not stop four Democratic senators and one ex-Democrat from helping the GOP send the measure to his desk on Wednesday.
Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jacky Rosen (Nev.), and Jon Tester (Mont.) along with now-Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) joined with all Republicans present to pass H.J. Res. 27 in a 53-43 vote.
Passed by the GOP-controlled House early this month mostly along party lines—nine Democrats supported the measure while just one Republican opposed it—the resolution takes aim at regulations finalized by the Biden administration in late December.
"A majority of senators elected to represent the American people have chosen to side with corporate polluters."
Reversing one of many rollbacks under former President Donald Trump, under the Biden rule, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines "waters of the United States" (WOTUS) that are protected under the Clean Water Act as "traditional navigable waters, the territorial seas, interstate waters, as well as upstream water resources that significantly affect those waters."
In an early March policy statement threatening what is now expected to be Biden's second veto, the White House explained that "H.J. Res. 27 would leave Americans without a clear 'waters of the United States' definition. The increased uncertainty would threaten economic growth, including for agriculture, local economies, and downstream communities."
"Farmers would be left wondering whether artificially irrigated areas remain exempt or not," the White House warned. "Construction crews would be left wondering whether their waterfilled gravel pits remain exempt or not."
"Compared to the kind of uncertain, fragmented, and watered-down regulatory system that H.J. Res. 27 might compel," the White House added, "the final rule will secure substantial and valuable benefits each year in critical flood protections, enhanced water quality, and the treasured recreational activities—fishing, swimming, boating, and more—that fill the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of U.S. households that depend on healthy wetlands and streams."
If they all choose to run, Manchin, Rosen, Sinema, and Tester, are up for reelection next year. Cortez Masto, who narrowly won reelection in November, told the Nevada Appeal on Wednesday that the Silver State's "unique water needs are unlike any other state, and this administration's rule forces our local governments, farmers, ranchers, and businesses to jump through unnecessary red tape."
As E&E Newsnoted Wednesday:
One vulnerable Democrat facing a tough reelection campaign opted to stick with his party. Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly's vote had previously been an open question, but during a recent hearing, he repeatedly questioned the use of the Congressional Review Act to target WOTUS.
The CRA allows for a simple majority to overturn recent rules, but also hinders the government's ability to pursue a similar rule. Kelly expressed concern the resolution might unravel any efforts to make Clean Water Act enforcement suitable to states like his.
"Restoring critical protections for waters across the country should be a simple and easily supported effort. Yet a majority of senators elected to represent the American people have chosen to side with corporate polluters and play politics with one of our most critical natural resources," declaredSierra Club executive director Ben Jealous. "This is inexcusable."
"Access to clean, safe water is a human right and should never be determined by where someone lives, how much money they make, or the color of their skin," he said. "The Sierra Club has and will continue to work with our allies to protect our waters, and we call President Biden to swiftly veto the WOTUS Congressional Review Act resolution."
Earthjustice senior legislative counsel Julián González similarly called out the senators and called for a swift veto, while also warning that "protections for clean water are constantly under attack from polluting industries, and this will not be the last Republican attempt to significantly weaken the Clean Water Act during this Congress."
"The Clean Water Restoration Rule is grounded in the scientific consensus of how waters and wetlands are hydrologically connected and incredibly important to protect," González stressed. "This is a welcome step forward from the Trump administration's pro-polluter dirty water."
"Unfortunately, instead of relying on the science, Republicans—and some Democrats—are choosing to ally themselves with dirty industries whose mission is to eliminate any and all meaningful protections for our waters," he continued. "The senators who voted to remove these protections shamefully put corporate profits over our right to clean drinking water, healthy water-reliant economies, and sustainable water supply."
"We urge members of Congress who supported this resolution to reflect on why they are tossing aside concerns of people from all walks of life who value our waters in order to support those who would decimate the Clean Water Act if they had their way," González added. "Finally, we applaud President Biden for indicating he will reject this effort and veto this resolution when it reaches his desk."