Like a Phoenix, Efforts to Address Water Infrastructure Take Tentative Steps Forward
Congressional efforts to pass a comprehensive national infrastructure policy appear all but dead for this Congress. However, the past week saw piecemeal efforts advance. The Water Resources Development Act that funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) projects and programs every two years received Senate and House committee action this week with unanimous votes in support of the respective bills, sending them to the House and Senate floors for debate and votes on passage. According to the committees, it is entirely possible that the two bills could be acted upon in June. This timetable would allow for adequate time to develop a compromise bill for final approval and passage.
The America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 2800), unlike the House Water Resources Act of 2018 (H.R. 8), takes an expansive approach to water infrastructure policy, including provisions affecting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), in addition to USACE, that support enhanced federal support for water infrastructure assistance. S. 2800 is notable for a host of provisions that could accelerate efforts to construct vital public water infrastructure including:
- Authorizing a WIFIA-like program to provide $100 million annually for two years that would provide low interest loans and highly subsidized loans to clear out state SRF project backlogs. Based upon current WIFIA leveraging success, states might be able address billions of dollars in new project construction needs.
- Authorizing a $25 million grants assistance program to support local agencies’ needs to address climate resiliency. This includes facility relocation, groundwater management programs, and other demands to address sea level rise, drought and stormwater impacts.
- Creating a program known as WaterSENSE to promote the use of water and energy efficient technologies, including a voluntary labeling program identifying technologies as compliant with use efficiency goals.
- Establishing authority for USEPA to allow for Integrated Plans that allow for NPDES permitting compliance schedules that ensure Clean Water Act compliance is based upon priorities beyond a five year permit term. New affordability conditions are also provided with regard to developing compliance efforts.
- Reaffirming Congress’ commitment to robust funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water Acts’ SRFs, including a condition of at least $3.0 billion per year funding to allow for the new SRF WIFIA program’s funding.
- Making green infrastructure eligible for SRF assistance and imposing Buy American mandate for American Iron and Steel (AIS) a permanent element of the Drinking Water SRF.
In the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, members marked up and approved the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA) (H.R. 8). The committee approved the bill as amended by voice vote. The bill now moves to the House Floor to be voted on by the full House. Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) says that it is possible that H.R. 8 could receive floor time during the first week of June.
H.R. 8 is a narrower WRDA bill compared to its Senate companion bill and primarily focuses the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) projects and activities to improve the nation’s ports, dams, and inland waterways. During the markup, the Committee passed amendments that dealt with USACE activities and responsibilities, as well as technical changes to the bill. Members did offer amendments that dealt with the Clean Water Act (CWA), but, as Shuster explained, the Committee as whole agreed that this bill would be limited to USACE and so the Committee would not take up CWA amendments. Amendments to H.R. 8 are expected to be offered when the bill is considered by the full House.
Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Continue In Full Swing
As the Memorial Day Congressional Recess approaches, the House and Senate continued this week to advance fiscal year 2019 (FY19) appropriation bills. Congressional leaders hope that the bills could receive floor consideration and ultimately votes in both chambers by the July 4th recess.
House appropriators have announced plans to package the fiscal year 2019 Energy-Water (H.R. 5895), Military Construction-VA (H.R. 5786), and Legislative Branch (H.R. 5894) into a mini-omnibus spending bill and schedule a potential vote in early June. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced his intent to schedule Senate floor action as early as June, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) added to the positive outlook suggesting that the appropriations process could be “concluded before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.”
The House and Senate acted on several spending bill this week, key actions are highlighted below.
Senate Committee on Appropriations
Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Bill
On May 24, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill on a recorded vote of 30-1. The bill now goes to the Senate Floor to be considered by the full Senate. The bill provides a total of $43.766 billion to fund the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation programs and projects. The bill is $7.24 billion above the Administration’s budget request. Below is summary of spending allocation decisions:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
- $6.927 billion, which is $2,142,417 billion above the budget request
- $123 million for USACE investigations and allows USACE to begin seven new feasibility studies and $2.161 billion for construction activities providing for six “new starts”
- Regarding Section 1126 of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2016 (WIIN Act) provision allowing USACE Secretary, at the request of a non-federal interest, to provide technical assistance relating to any aspect of a feasibility study if the non-federal interest contracts with the Secretary to pay all costs of providing such technical assistance, the bill directs USACE to brief House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on perceived limitations to providing such assistance
- $1.289.267 billion in additional funding for USACE construction activities account with language that not than:
- $15.4 million for projects for hurricane and storm damage risk reduction and environmental restoration
- $20 million to continue projects that make improvements to rainfall drainage systems that address flood damages
- $30 million to authorized reimbursements for projects that have executed project partnership agreements and have completed construction or where non-federal sponsors intend to use funds for additional water resource development activities
- $3.740 billion for USACE Operation and Maintenance
- $1 million to continue efforts for USACE to implement the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) Program to support project financing
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Water and Related Resources
- $1.382 billion which is $50 million above the current budget level
- $196 million allocated to drought resiliency programs under the WIIN Act and calls for a combination of additional water storage, investment in desalination and water recycling, improved conveyance, and increased efficiencies in the use of water supplies of which $54 million is to support water recycling (of which $20 million for WIIN) and $34 million for WaterSmart
- $134 million for California water storage projects (WIIN)
- $12 million for desalination projects
U.S. Department of Energy
- $105 million for Water Power, of which:
- $35 million for conventional hydropower and pumped storage activities
Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Fiscal Year 2019 Appropriations Bill
On May 24, the Senate Committee on Appropriations approved its fiscal year 2019 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration bill. The bill provides $145.1 billion, $710 million below the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.
- $879.1 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is $5 million above the FY2018 enacted level. Including $150 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program.
- $3.8 billion for Rural Development programs.
- $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans and $800 million for water and waste grants.
- $425 million for Rural Broadband program loans and grants and $53 million in Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants.
House Committee on Appropriations
On May 23, the House Committee on Appropriations marked up its fiscal year 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding appropriations bill. The bill provides $71.8 billion, which is $1.5 billion above the fiscal year 2018 enacted level. The bill is expected to come to the House Floor in June.
U.S. Department of Transportation – $27.8 billion, which is $542 million above the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.
- $750 million BUILD (National Infrastructure Investments) Program, $250 million is set aside for port projects.
- $46 billion, from the Highway Trust Fund, for Federal-aid Highways Program, $1 billion above the fiscal year 2018 level.
- $3.2 billion for rail infrastructure and safety programs, $62.5 million over the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.
- $300 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements grants, a decrease of $292.5 million from the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.
- Prohibits funding for high-speed rail in California, the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Housing and Urban Development – $43.6 billion, an increase $941 million above the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.
- $3.3 billion for Community Development Block Grants, equal to the fiscal year 2018 level.
Appropriators Announce Subcommittee Funding Allocations
This week, House and Senate Committees on Appropriations approved fiscal year 2019 funding allocations. Referred to as 302(b) allocations, these allocations set a cap on spending for each of the 12 appropriations bills. Several of these allocations have already been revealed due to appropriation bills being recently marked-up in the House and Senate.
House and Senate 302(b) Allocations
Legislative Activity This Week
H.R. 5515, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. – Passed the House on a recorded vote of 351-66.
H.R. 5897, To require the Secretary of the Army to expedite the completion of certain feasibility studies and reports and to amend the Coastal Barrier Resources Act to ensure public safety, and for other purposes. – Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX)
Reports and Regulation
USEPA Report on Hypoxia Task Force – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) report on the Hypoxia Task Force’s efforts to account for nonpoint source changes.
Department of Energy State-Level Funding (Bipartisan Policy Center) – Interactive update on the Department of Energy’s funding for innovative energy research.
Congress Next Week
Both chambers will be out next week on Memorial Recess.