By Michael Bastasch - October 27, 2016
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rushed a major water regulation to appease the political ambitions of the White House and environmentalist allies, according to a report by congressional investigators.
Regulators based the “waters of the United States,” or WOTUS, on politics rather than science, according to the report. WOTUS expands federal power over bodies of water, including those on private property.
“WOTUS was a doomed rule out of the gate,” Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz said in a statement.
“The Obama administration prioritized politics over policy by rushing through a legally and scientifically deficient rule,” said Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “This report illustrates the many ways in which the White House and EPA abused their authority to advance one of their top regulatory priorities.”
EPA finalized WOTUS in May 2015. The agency said the WOTUS rule was needed to clear up the Clean Water Act’s jurisdictional uncertainties in the aftermath of two Supreme Court cases on the matter.
Republicans, farmers and industrial groups have called the rule an EPA “power grab” because it extends the agency’s powers to new heights. Environmentalists argued WOTUS is necessary to protect water quality.
But from the beginning, Republicans were pointing to big problems with how the rule was crafted at EPA. The GAO found last year that EPA had violated federal anti-lobbying rules by conducting a massive social media campaign with environmentalists to promote WOTUS.
Chaffetz’s staff found high-level White House staffers “assured environmentalist groups the Administration would quickly finalize the WOTUS rule” and that “caused the career staff involved in developing the rule to feel pressure to meet accelerated timelines, which caused deficiencies in the regulatory process.”
“The Administration’s insistence on adhering to a specific timeline resulted in cut corners and bypassed regulatory protocols. This rulemaking demonstrates how an ideological policy agenda can override regulatory safeguards put in place by Congress,” the committee’s report found.
The report also claims EPA sidelined the Army Corps of Engineers throughout the rulemaking process, and top administration officials restricted Corps communications with EPA over WOTUS.
Congressional investigators also found EPA ignored conducting a full analysis on how WOTUS would impact small businesses, as required by federal law. EPA also published its draft rule before the scientific study undergirding the justification for WOTUS was even published, “which creates the appearance that EPA’s policy decisions were foregone conclusions,” committee staffers wrote.
More troubling is Corps officials made “last minute” to an environmental review that “changed the dynamics” of how WOTUS was being evaluated by the government. These changes “EPA’s jurisdiction over certain wetlands and water bodies” and allowed the rule to circumvent a full environmental review as required by law.
When one Corps regulator recommended WOTUS go through a more thorough review, “he was removed from his duties on WOTUS, and replaced by someone who had no previous experience on WOTUS,” Congress found.
WOTUS, however, may never become federal law. The rule is currently being held up in federal court after dozens of states and industry groups sued to have it struck down.