Gary Kramer/Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service via
A vernal pool in Northern California. Credit: Gary Kramer/Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service via

A Senate committee has voted to overturn a new rule that defines which waters and wetlands the federal government can protect from bulldozing and pollution.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the bill, 11-9, on a party-line vote with only Republicans voting in favor.

A new federal rule would protect tributaries, no matter how seldom they hold water.

The vote came just two weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the new clean water rule, which would protect tributaries and wetlands, no matter how seldom they hold water. As previously reported, it also would offer protection for certain regional waters, such as vernal pools in California.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the bill to block that rule was part of his mission to prevent “EPA regulatory overreach.”

But California Democrat Barbara Boxer, appealing to her colleagues to vote against the bill, said, “This is the environment committee, not the anti-environment committee.

“Members of this Committee should understand that when we weaken the Clean Water Act, we are putting people in danger,” she said.

The bill would make the agencies rewrite a more limited rule that would exclude many types of waterways and wetlands.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who authored the bill, said the new rule defined “waters of the U.S.” in an overly broad way that will give federal agencies authority to regulate private property across the country, burdening farmers and other landowners. “I expect nearly the whole country would be included,” he said.

Under his bill, a new rule would be crafted to protect rivers that are large enough for boats to navigate—but not every small waterway, pool or wetland.

Inhofe said he was working with the GOP Senate leadership to schedule a vote in the full Senate, but did not yet have a date. House Republicans also are working on a bill to reject the new rule.

Elizabeth Shogren is the D.C. correspondent for High Country News, where this article first appeared.