The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a staff report detailing findings from its two-year investigation into the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rulemaking process. The report shows how pressure from the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) led to a rulemaking that was a case study in legal shortcuts, predetermined conclusions, and politically motivated timelines.
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) issued the following statement regarding the report:
“WOTUS was a doomed rule out of the gate. The Obama administration prioritized politics over policy by rushing through a legally and scientifically deficient rule. This report illustrates the many ways in which the White House and EPA abused their authority to advance one of their top regulatory priorities.”
The Clean Water Act (CWA) passed in 1972 gave the federal government limited jurisdiction over certain navigable waters. On May 27, 2015, the administration announced an agency rule to clarify CWA, which significantly increased the federal government’s jurisdiction.
During the 114th Congress, the Oversight Committee held multiple hearings in 2015 (February 26, March 3) and 2016 (January 7, March 15, April 19, June 23) related to the WOTUS rule.
Key findings from the report include (found on p. 10):
- The agencies pushed the rule through on an accelerated timeline that appeared to have been motivated by political considerations. Some officials involved in the process believed politics deprived them the opportunity to conduct a meaningful and full review of the rule before its promulgation.
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), which shares jurisdiction over CWA, was cut out of the rule development process.
- The EPA made no effort to ensure the rule was based on sound science. The EPA did not conduct additional research (which the Corps believed was necessary) to justify the rule’s conclusions.
- The agencies did not consider alternatives to the rule, and even went so far as to gut the discussion of alternatives after the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) stated such discussion was necessary.
- The agencies went to unusual and unprecedented lengths to avoid compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, and Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act.
- Public comments were not fully reviewed and considered before agencies drafted the final rule.