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As House speaker, Kevin McCarthy would be well-positioned to fight water regulations

As House speaker, Kevin McCarthy would be well-positioned to fight water regulations
Signs along Highway 99 near Chowchilla connect water cutbacks prompted by the drought to agricultural employment. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The resignation of House Speaker John A. Boehner could bring a strong proponent of California agriculture to the speaker position.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), who as House majority leader is the top candidate to replace Boehner, has pushed back at environmental regulations governing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and has favored more water transfers to Central Valley growers hit by cutbacks from federal water projects.

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This year, he supported a House bill, passed in July, that would repeal the 2009 law governing restoration of the San Joaquin River. The bill also would speed up federal projects to store more water to mitigate the effects of periodic droughts.

He also has fought regulation of smaller streams and other bodies of water under the federal Clean Water Act.

McCarthy, who hails from a district with some of the worst air pollution in the country, has opposed legislation regulating greenhouse gases.

He called the federal government's recent rules clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act "an unprecedented power grab" that would burden growers in his Central Valley district and elsewhere.

"Beyond sounding ridiculous, this rule will impact farmers, energy producers and any private citizens that use their land for economic or recreational purposes," he told fellow members of Congress last year.

McCarthy recounted how he drove a federal official to Sandy Creek, near Taft, to show that a body of water that federal officials deemed a "navigable waterway" was a dry ditch.

The new rule, aimed at protecting larger rivers from pollution in tributaries, does not govern agricultural ditches, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

On immigration, an issue that affects farm labor, McCarthy has opposed what he has called "amnesty" for migrants who came to the U.S. illegally, and has favored tighter border security. His district is about 35% Latino. That helped earn him an A rating from the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, despite his having spoken in favor of some form of legal documentation for migrants to work and pay taxes.

"He is much more nuanced" than hard-liners on either side, said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. "I think Kevin understands we have to do something."

Immigration activists have focused on McCarthy as a potential deal-maker for immigration reform, pressuring him to take a bolder stance and a more active role.

"While he certainly has a context of the things that are important to California, he's going to have a national view," Wenger said. "I guess the best thing I can say about Kevin is he has shown an ability to work with diverse interests and bring them together for a solution."

The 23rd Congressional District includes most of Kern and Tulare counties and part of northeastern Los Angeles County. It extends from the Tehachapi Mountains to the southern Sierra Nevada.

Boehner stunned Washington on Friday when he announced he was stepping down on Oct. 30 and giving up the congressional seat from southern Ohio that he has held since 1991. Boehner rose to the speaker's job in January 2011 after Republicans recaptured control of the House.

Though Boehner's announcement came as a surprise, Capitol Hill had been buzzing with rumors of conservative plots to overthrow the long-embattled speaker.

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"This turmoil that's been churning now for a couple of months — it's not good for the members, not good for the institution," Boehner told reporters Friday. "There wasn't any doubt about whether I could survive the vote. I don't want my members to go through this. I certainly don't want the institution to go through this."

geoffrey.mohan@latimes.com

Twitter: LATgeoffmohan

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