Senate approves Sam Graves’ bill to block Biden administration’s new water rules

When Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, took control of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this year, he vowed to do something to block a controversial federal rule guiding the country’s water policy.

The Biden administration issued a new version of the Waters of the U.S. Rule in December, dipping their toe into more than a decade-long battle over water policy that attempts to determine whether some waterways should be regulated by the states or the federal government.

Shortly after, Graves and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, sponsored a resolution for Congress to reject Biden’s rule ahead of a likely U.S. Supreme Court decision which could set new legal precedent on the policy.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved the measure with a bipartisan 53-43 vote, sending it to President Joe Biden. Kansas and Missouri’s Republican senators all approved the measure, following its approval in the House earlier this month where the delegations split among party lines.

“The Administration is doing everything in its power to impose more red tape and more costs on our businesses, farmers, builders, and communities,” Graves said in a press release. “The measure to overturn the Biden WOTUS rule, now approved by both the Senate and the House, is a clear message from Congress that enough is enough.”

The Waters of the U.S. Rule falls under the Clean Water Act and has been a thorn in the side of farmers, ranchers and the fossil fuel industry as the federal government has sought to clean up the country’s waterways and the ecosystems surrounding them.

In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the rule but didn’t have enough votes to constitute a majority. In one opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the EPA has jurisdiction if a waterway has a “significant nexus” with navigable water. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the EPA should be limited to relatively permanent bodies of standing or flowing water that connect to navigable water ways.

Positions on the Clean Water Act have largely fallen among party lines, with Democrats supporting the environmentalists who argue for federal control and Republicans supporting farmers, ranchers and the energy industry in arguing for local control. The five Democratic Senators who supported the resolution were from Nevada, West Virginia, Arizona and Montana, all places with a strong ranching community.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Missouri Republican who spent the first few months of his term railing against federal bureaucracy, painted his vote as one intended to prevent burdensome regulations.

“The Waters of the United States rule was a gross attempt to expand the power of Biden’s army of administrators and place dry creek beds and drainage ditches under federal control,” Schmitt said. “I am proud to have played a part in blocking the federal government from interfering with Missouri agriculture, which is vital to the economy of our state.”

Since 2015, each presidential administration has crafted its own version of the rule. The Biden administration rules were closer to Kennedy’s interpretation, by looking at ecosystems and determining jurisdiction on a case by case basis. It was instantly opposed by Republicans, who pointed to the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court was set to issue another ruling about the issue in months.

Graves said he would act to stop the Biden administration rule and sponsored a joint resolution with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, using Congress’ power to prevent major rules by the federal government from taking effect.

The resolution will still need Biden’s signature. If he blocks it, Congress would have to vote with a two thirds majority to override his veto.