WASHINGTON (AP) — Defending his administration’s actions on clean water, President Joe Biden on Thursday vetoed a congressional resolution that would have repealed protections for the nation’s waterways that Republicans have criticized as too intrusive.
Republicans, and some Democrats, targeted an Environmental Protection Agency rule that protects thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways, labeling it an environmental overreach that hurts businesses, developers and farmers.
In separate votes, the House and the Senate used the Congressional Review Act to enact a measure blocking the clean water rule, which was approved at the end of last year.
In his veto message Thursday, Biden said the bipartisan measure would leave Americans without a clear definition of “Waters of the United States. A dispute over the term, and the breadth of the landmark Clean Water Act, spans at least three presidential administrations.
Environmentalists and Democratic presidents have pushed to broaden the definition and protect more waterways from pollution, while right-wing groups and the Trump administration argued that protecting fewer waterways would benefit builders, farmers and businesses.
“The increased uncertainty” caused by congressional action “would threaten economic growth, including for agriculture, local economies, and downstream communities,” Biden said in his veto statement.
“Farmers would wonder if artificially irrigated areas are excluded or not,” he added. “Construction crews would wonder if their water-filled gravel quarries are excluded or not. The resolution would also adversely affect tens of millions of American homes that depend on healthy wetlands and streams.”
The Senate voted, 53-43, last week to strike down the water rule. He The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the resolution in March, 227-198. A Congressional Review Act resolution requires a simple majority in both chambers and cannot be obstructed.
In all, four Democratic senators and one independent, along with nine Democratic members of the House, voted in favor of the resolution.
“The overreach, basically, is unrealistic,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., a frequent critic of Biden’s environmental policies.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said the EPA rule is protective and fair. “The Biden rule requires us to be good neighbors and stewards of our planet, while providing flexibility to those who need it,” said Carper, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee.
At the end of December, EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers repealed Trump administration’s business-friendly rule which reduced the protections. Since then, Republicans have attacked the Biden rule in the courts and in Congress.
Last month, a federal judge stopped the clean water rule in Texas and Idaho in a victory for Republican legal challenges. Red states have argued in court that the rule is too vague and would create unacceptable economic hardship.
The Supreme Court also considering a related case brought by an Idaho couple who have been trying for 15 years to build a house near a lake after the EPA determined that part of their property was a regulated wetland. The justices heard arguments in Sackett v. EPA in October. A decision is expected in the coming months.