Omnibus Spending Package Negotiators Working to Reach Finish Line
Disagreement over several contentious policy riders has complicated the path to completing a $1.3 trillion fiscal year 2018 omnibus spending bill. The standoff has raised a red flag over the prospect of completing action on the must do spending bill by March 23, when the current continuing resolution expires. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced that he is considering holding votes next week on the omnibus spending bill, but House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) voiced doubt that there would be sufficient votes to move a bill unless the “prickly” policy riders are removed from the package. Despite this view, it is almost certain that a final budget package will be sent to the President for enactment.
The largest stumbling block to the bill’s passage is Democrat opposition to language contained in the House Labor-HHS-Education spending bill that would eliminate funding for Title X family-planning programs. In addition, environmental policy riders seek to prohibit implementation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s strict ozone standard; limit public comment on the Clean Water Rule; block implementation of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s rule prohibiting gas flaring and methane venting on federal land; and, open Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to logging.
The Bipartisan Budget Act, approved in early February, provided an additional $63 billion for domestic spending, increasing the total spending level to $579 billion for fiscal year 2018. . As part of the budget agreement, congressional leaders on a bipartisan basis agreed to commit $10 billion, in both 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, on “infrastructure, including programs related to rural water and wastewater, clean and safe drinking water, rural broadband, energy, innovative capital projects, and surface transportation.” This agreement is expected to allow Congress to increase funding of the State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act programs.
House Democrats Introduce Legislation Promoting Water Recycling Infrastructure
On March 28, Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA) introduced the Water Recycling Investment and Improvement Act, H.R. 5127. Napolitano, who sits on both the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will use her position to advocate for passage of the bill’s provisions when Congress moves to advance a national infrastructure package. The legislation as introduced adopts a priority of House Democrats, especially Western States Members, to provide increased funding assistance for water recycling infrastructure.
H.R. 5127 currently has 11 co-sponsors, all Democrats. H.R. 5127 would:
- Increase funding authorization of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI WIIN water recycling competitive grants program to $500 million from $50 million;
- Make the WIIN program permanent (it currently expires in 2021);
- Reauthorize the expired USEPA Alternative Water Sources Act
- Provide$375 million for the Alternative Water Sources Act program and makes it permanent and authorize 50% grants assistance
- Provide grants for projects that conserve, manage, reclaim, or reuse water, wastewater, or stormwater.
Senate Democrats Release Infrastructure Proposal
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats introduced the Jobs and Infrastructure Plan For America’s Workers. As released it is the formal response to the Trump Administration proposal released on March 12. The following summarizes elements of the plan that target water infrastructure.
Modernize America’s Water & Sewer Systems
Ninety-two billion would be appropriated to modernize water and sewer infrastructure, providing $46 billion dollars to support water and wastewater needs. This would be in addition to current FY2018 funding. Under the proposal, USEPA water and wastewater funding would be distributed based on the following criteria:
- States will receive the additional funding through existing State Revolving Loan Program (SRF). States must spend at least 50% of the additional funds in the form of grants, but are given the flexibility to spend as much of 100% of the funds as grants if states choose to do so.
- Funds must be spent in the following order: first on disadvantaged communities, second on Indian Tribes, and third on general infrastructure improvements. Any money that the state awards in loans will be repaid under the same terms as in the SRF Program.
- For new funds provided under plan, Senate Democrats propose eliminating local matching funds that are required of states and local governments. The plan argues that this will allow for communities to address their most pressing needs now.
- Policy Proposal: enactment of a bipartisan Integrated Planning legislation to help communities advance water and sewer projects and help support more comprehensive and sustainable solutions
Build More Resilient Communities
The proposal would direct an investment of $25 billion to help communities prepare for disasters. This includes strategic investments in stormwater management and public facilities. The funding proposal calls for the creation of a Resilient Communities Revolving Loan Fund and a National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund. The Resilient Communities Revolving Loan Fund will be modeled after the USEPA’s Drinking and Clean Water Revolving Funds and provide low and no interest loans to communities for investment in resilient infrastructure. The National Oceans and Coastal Security Fund would be used for smart coastal development, protection of critical coastal public infrastructure, and baseline data collection on the effects of seal level rise, changing ocean chemistry, erosion, and other coastal processes.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources USGS Director Nominee Hearing
On March 6, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing to consider James Reilly II to be Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Reilly’s nomination received broad bipartisan support throughout the hearing. In response to a question from Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), Reilly stated that that in terms of USGS’ core missionaries, water is a large one, and that USGS’ geologic mapping of water resources is one of the Agency’s core projects.
Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) stated that she expects to move Reilly’s nomination swiftly to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. No date for committee consideration of James Reilly II’s nomination has been scheduled.
U.S. Supreme Court Decides Texas vs. New Mexico Water Rights Case
On March 5, the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) unanimously ruled that New Mexico breached the Rio Grande Compact (Compact) in the case Texas v. New Mexico, and that the federal government may intervene and assert a claim that New Mexico has violated the Compact. In the opinion, authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, SCOTUS gave the federal government permission to assert its own claims in the Rio Grande Compact dispute due to the “distinctively federal interests” that are present. However, the Justices cautioned that this decision does not give the federal government a bigger role in other water rights disputes.
With the federal government’s role decided, the case now goes back to the Special Master and the parties will argue the case’s merits.
H.R. 5137, Buy America 2.0 Act – Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA)
S. 79, Securing Energy Infrastructure Act – Reported out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on a voice vote. – Senator Angus King (I-ME)
Reports and Regulation
USEPA Year One Review Report – Outlines the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) achievements during Administrator Scott Pruitt’s first year at USEPA.
California State Water Press Release Announcement – CA State Water Board Adopts Regulations for Augmenting Reservoirs with Treated Recycled Water
Congress Next Week
March 13, 2018
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Hearing to Examine the President’s Budget Request for the Department of the Interior for FY19
March 14, 2018
House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies – FY19 Budget Hearing, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation
March 15, 2018
House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies – FY19 Budget Hearing, Department of Energy
House Committee on Natural Resources – Hearing on Policy Priorities at the Department of the Interior and the Administration’s FY19 Budget Proposal
House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure – Hearing on Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Water Resources Projects and Policy
House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies – Hearing on the FY 19 Transportation Department Budget