WASHINGTON — Defending his administration’s actions on clean water, President Joe Biden on Thursday vetoed a congressional resolution that would have overturned protections for the nation’s waterways that Republicans have criticized as overly intrusive.
Republicans — and some Democrats — targeted an Environmental Protection Agency rule protecting thousands of small streams, wetlands and other waterways, labeling it an environmental overreach that harms businesses, developers and farmers.
In separate votes, the House and Senate used the Congressional Review Act to enact a measure blocking the clean water rule, which was adopted 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 — stretches across at least three presidential administrations.
Environmentalists and Democratic presidents have pushed to broaden the definition and protect more waterways from pollution, while right-leaning groups and the Trump administration argued that protecting fewer waterways would benefit builders, farmers and business.
“The increased uncertainty” caused by the congressional action “would threaten economic growth, including for agriculture, local economies and downstream communities,″ Biden said in his veto statement.
“Farmers would be left wondering whether artificially irrigated areas remain excluded or not,″ he added. “Construction crews would be left wondering whether their waterfilled gravel pits remain excluded or not. The resolution would also negatively affect tens of millions of United States households that depend on healthy wetlands and streams.″
The Senate voted, 53-43, last week to overturn the water rule. The Republican-controlled House approved the resolution in March, 227-198. A Congressional Review Act resolution requires a simple majority in both chambers and can’t be filibustered.
In all, four Democratic senators and one independent, along with nine Democratic House members, voted in favor of the resolution.
“The overreach, basically, it’s unreal,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.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 also providing flexibility for those who need it,” said Carper, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee.
In late December, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers repealed the Trump administration’s business-friendly rule that scaled back protections. Since then, Republicans have targeted the Biden rule in the courts and in Congress.
Last month, a federal judge paused the clean-water rule in Texas and Idaho in a win for Republican legal challenges. Red states have argued in court that the rule is too vague and would create unacceptable economic hardships.
The Supreme Court is also considering a related case brought by an Idaho couple who have been trying for 15 years to build a home 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 next few months.