U.S. Department of Agriculture Gets a Facelift

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue announced the reorganization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The reorganization plan proposes to realign department resources and programs with the mission to elevate the department’s promotion of improving agricultural trade.  The reorganization plan has been submitted by Secretary Purdue, to Congress, for review by the appropriate committees of jurisdiction, as required by the 2014 Farm Bill. Implementation will occur within 1 year of the submission of the report to Congress.

Highlights of the plan include the:

  • Creation of a new undersecretary of trade and foreign agricultural affairs
  • Elimination of the Undersecretary of Rural Development position
  • Elimination of Rural Housing Service, Rural Utilities Service and Rural Business-Cooperative Service and placing the services’ programs within the Office of the Secretary
  • Creating a new Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation with jurisdiction over Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service and Risk Management Agencies
  • Reassignment of the Undersecretary for Natural Resources to focus exclusively on management of U.S. Forest Service.

White House Provides Additional Guidance on Regulatory Review

The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs issued a memorandum (memo) providing additional guidance to the federal departments and agencies’ heads on the implementation of regulatory review programs Executive Order (EO) 13783 (EO).  The EO directs an immediate review of domestically produced energy resources regulations.  The guidance provides agencies 45-days from May 12 to submit a plan on developing reviews and recommendations to the Vice President, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, and Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Following this activity, the agencies’ next deadline, July 26, 2017, requires submission of a final draft plan that provides recommendations on the repeal, replacement or modification of existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and any other agency actions.  Agencies are required to demonstrate the costs savings that may be achieved under each recommendation.  The final decisions on rule changes are to be published in the Federal Register September 24.

Senate Committee Continues Effort to Examine Approaches to Amen the Endangered Species Act

On May 10, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing entitled “Conservation, Consultation, and Capacity: State Views on the Need to Modernize the Endangered Species Act (ESA).”  Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) framed the hearing, expressing that the ESA has not been living up to its conservation potential.  Barrasso stated he plans to work closely with Ranking Democrat Tom Carper (D-DE) on legislation to modernize ESA.  Among his priorities are improving conservation incentives, facilitating enhanced consultation opportunities and identifying appropriate fiscal resources.

In testimony to the committee, Larry Voyles, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, echoed Chairman Barrasso’s remarks.  Voyles testified that federal agencies fail to leverage state expertise and that it is imperative to modernize ESA with an eye toward developing a cooperative process.  Janet Coit, Director, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management testified on the need for greater state engagement in ESA implementation.  Coit identified the need for states to be active participants with federal agencies in the species listing process and in subsequent development of recovery plans.  Also, testifying at the hearing was Nick Wiley, Executive Director, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Senate Committee Examines Water Projects and Role of Private and Public Sectors

On May 9, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on the role of public and private sectors in water resources project development.  This hearing, focusing on the condition of seaport infrastructure, was one in a series of committee hearings to frame the discussion on a broad range of infrastructure issues to set the stage for the development of infrastructure legislation.

Subcommittee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) expressed concern that the nation’s water resources infrastructure is in dire need of restoration and modernization.  Inhofe stated that it is important for the Committee to consider an array of financing options, including public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects.

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), explained in his testimony that P3’s play an ever-increasing role in the ability of the Corp’s to deliver projects. In response to a question from Inhofe, Semonite acknowledged that the Corps are actively engaged in an exchange of information with the Administration on regulatory and other project development issues. Semonite highlighted several of the Administration’s questions:

  • What are significant challenges the Corp faces on budgetary issues and what are some projects that could benefit from additional funding?
  • Are there examples where P3’s has helped lessen the financial burden on taxpayers?
  • Are there processes or procedures that need streamlining or modifying to improve efficiency?

Also, testifying at the hearing were: James Lyons, Director/CEO, Alabama State Port Authority; Grant Humphreys, Carlton Landing (OK); Pete Rahn, Maryland Secretary of Transportation; and Rick Goche, Commissioner, Port of Bandon (OR).

Legislation/Regulations/Reports/Studies

Executive Order (EO) – Cybersecurity The E.O. orders broad reviews of federal government online vulnerabilities and creates standards for cybersecurity practices across various government agencies.

Waters of the United States – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a news release stating that the USEPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a letter to governors soliciting input from states on a new definition of protected waters that is in line with Supreme Court precedent.

S. 1036 (Senator Wyden D-OR) – To promote research, development, and demonstration of marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy technologies, and for other purposes.

HR 2328 (Rep. Marcia Fudge D-OH) – To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to establish a low-income sewer and water assistance pilot program.

HR 2347 (Rep. Norma Torres D-CA) – To direct the Secretary of the Treasury to establish a regional infrastructure accelerator program to facilitate investments in and the financing of certain infrastructure projects, and for other purposes.

S.1090 (Sen. Mike Crapo R-ID) – A bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to facilitate water leasing and water transfers to promote conservation and efficiency.

Elizabeth Mabry has joined the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as a minority professional staff member. She departs the Environmental Defense Fund where she was a senior policy manager on ecosystems issues. Mabry served six years working for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

Letter from 50 conservative organizations outlining national infrastructure priorities

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

May 16th

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure – Hearing to examine leveraging federal funding, focusing on innovative solutions for infrastructure.

May 17th

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – Hearing – Improving America’s Transportation Infrastructure: The Road Forward.

House Committee on Agriculture – Hearing – Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on the State of the Rural Economy

House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Federal Lands – Oversight Hearing on Seeking Better Management of America’s Overgrown, Fire-Prone National Forests

House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans – Discussion Draft of H.R. ____ (Rep. Scott Tipton) – Water Rights Protection Act – To prohibit the conditioning of any permit, lease, or other use agreement on the transfer of any water right to the United States by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, and for other purposes.

May 18

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the nomination of David Bernhardt to be deputy Interior secretary

House Natural Resources Committee hearing on water rights and western power

Water, Power and Oceans Subcommittee hearing on H.R.2371, the “Western Area Power Administration Transparency Act;” and the “Water Rights Protection Act.”

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure – Hearing on Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Improving Water Quality through Integrated Planning

May 23

Expected release of President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget request