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House Overwhelmingly Approves Water Resources Development Act of 2018

The House made good on the first step in a promise to renew the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) (H.R.8) every two years when it voted 408-2 to approve the bill.  The bill’s attention to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) programs and projects reauthorization is notable because of its focus on the need to expedite flood and navigation projects and to improve the transparency of the USACE’s project implementation process.  In addition, the bill seeks to ensure that local stakeholders are given the opportunity to provide input during the decision-making process of project activities.  The bill is now pending in the Senate where action on the Senate’s version, the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 2800), is expected to happen later this summer at the latest.  S. 2800 is notable for its broader approach to renewing WRDA with provisions to provide enhanced funding approaches for core wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, authorizing a new grants program to address climate resiliency needs of water agencies, extending the WIFIA program, and emphasizing the importance of USEPA’s state revolving loan fund program.

House Passes Minibus Spending Bill(s) 

On Thursday, the House passed a three-bill “minibus” spending package (H.R. 5895) containing the Fiscal Year 2019 Energy and Water Development, Military Construction-VA, and Legislative Branch spending bills.  The House passed the bills, as amended, on a recorded vote of 235-179.  The FY19 Energy and Water appropriations bill provides $44.7 billion for key programs within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Department of Energy.  Below is a summary of the key funding allocations within the Energy-Water appropriation bill.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

  • Provides $7.28 billion, which is an increase of $451 million above the FY 2018 enacted level.
  • $128 million for surveys and detailed studies and plans, and specifications of projects prior to construction.
  • Six new studies and five new construction starts during FY 2019.
  • $2.323 billion for construction of river and harbor, flood and storm damage reduction, shore protection, aquatic ecosystem restoration, and related projects.
  • $1.6 billion in funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

  • Provides $1.5 billion, which is $75 million above the FY 2018 enacted level.
  • $35 million for the California Bay-Delta Restoration program.
  • $134 million for water storage projects authorized under WIIN.
  • $65 million for water recycling infrastructure.

House Appropriators Advance FY2019 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill 

On June 6, the House Committee on Appropriations marked up the Fiscal Year 2019 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill.  The Committee approved the bill on a recorded vote of 25-20.  The bill now heads to the House floor.  A date for a floor vote has yet to be scheduled.

The FY19 bill provides a total of $35.25 billion to fund programs within the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service.  It matches the previous FY 2018 enacted level.  Below is a quick summary of the funding allocations for key programs.

  • Provides $7.958 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency;
  • Provides $1.6 billion for the Clean Water and $1 billion Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds;
  • Provides $75 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) Program;
  • Provides $1.1 billion for Superfund site cleanup activities;
  • Provides $6.1 billion for the U.S. Forest Service allocating $3 billion for wildland fire prevention and suppression and $655 million for hazardous fuels management operations;
  • $1.2 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey, including a $13 million increase for streamgage networking needs and related monitoring networking programs.

The Committee adopted thirteen amendments to the FY19 Interior and Environment bill.  Three amendments of note include:

  • Amendment offered by Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Representative Peter Visclosky (D-IN) that “ensures that existing “Buy America” standards at the EPA are maintained.” The language maintains existing mandates that iron and steel be used in SRF assisted drinking water projects but does not expand the existing mandate.
  • Amendment offered by Representative David Valadao (R-CA) that “adds language exempting certain California water projects from additional judicial review, which causes unnecessary delays.” The amendment effectively makes any water project identified within the original CALFED Bay Delta program authorization exempt from judicial reviews after completion of environmental reviews.
  • Amendment offered by Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV) that “prohibits funding to require the transfer of groundwater rights as a condition for approving certain permits.”

House and Senate Committees Examine 2018 Wildfire Season and Forest Service Preparedness

Image courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center.

This week, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Public Lands held hearings to examine the outlook for the 2018 wildland fire season and status of wildland fire management programs.  Vicki Christiansen, Interim Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and Jeff Rupert, Director of the Office of Wildland Fire at the U.S. Department of the Interior (USDOI) testified at the Senate hearing.  Chief Christiansen testified at the House hearing.

Below is a summary of key issues presented at the hearings:

Wildfire Season Predictions: Chief Christiansen testified that “above-average wildfire activity appears to be our new normal,” adding that significant portions of the western United States are predicted to have above average potential for significant wildfire activity until the end of September.  (Significant Wildfire Potential Outlook June 2018 – National Interagency Fire Center)

Forest Management: Under the direction of Chief Christiansen, all Forest Service regions are developing two-year plans on how they will to employ new authorities Congress provided the Forest Service in the FY 2018 appropriations bill.  These “new tools” include expanded Good Neighbor Agreements, new categorical exclusion for wildfire resilience projects, and extension of stewardship agreements to 20 years. The plans will be submitted to the Office of the Chief next week.

Airtankers: The Forest Service was questioned on the agency’s “surge capacity,” a wildfire response policy that allows the Forest Service to deploy additional air tankers from the Department of Defense, Canada, and other partners when communities are in immediate danger due to nearby wildfires. Chief Christiansen detailed the agency’s policy and process for the deployment of additional air tankers and indicated that they have secured contracts to provide additional capacity for this wildfire season.

Unmanned Aerial Systems or Drones: Rupert and Christiansen testified that USDOI and the Forest Service are rapidly adopting the use of drones to support strategic planning for fighting wildfires through the detection of hot spots, improved mapping, and advanced monitoring of wildfires. Rupert testified that during the 2017 fire season, USDOI conducted 707 drone missions on 71 individual wildfires.

Litigation: During the Senate hearing, Chief Christiansen acknowledged that the threat of litigation at the tail end of the Forest Service’s approval process for collaborative projects remains a substantial problem for the Forest Service.  She said that these lawsuits take the focus off important management needs and have resulted in Forest Service staff being “risk adverse” towards project approval.

Rescission Story

Late Thursday night, the House passed H.R. 3, the White House’s $15 billion rescission request, on a vote of 210-206.  The $15 billion in spending cuts come from unspent funds allocated prior to fiscal year 2018 appropriations.  H.R. 3 now goes to the Senate where it’s passage is less certain.

Congressional Budget Office Analysis of H.R. 3 (PDF)

White House Statement on the Passage of H.R. 3, the Spending Cuts to Expired and Unnecessary Programs Act

Environmental Opposition to H.R. 3

New Legislation

S. 2990, A bill to amend the Lacey Act Amendments of 1981 to clarify provisions enacted by the Captive Wildlife Safety Act to further the conversation of prohibited wildlife species. – Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

S. 3015, A bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to establish a low-income sewer and drinking water assistance pilot program, and for other purposes. – Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)

S. 3012, A bill to establish an innovative water technology grant program and to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to encourage the use of innovative water technology, and for other purposes. – Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)

S. 3009, A bill to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to clarify when the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to prohibit the specification of a defined area, or deny or restrict the use of a defined area for specification, as a disposal site under section 404 of that Act, and for other purposes. – Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)

S. 3001, A bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to convey certain land and facilities of the Central Valley Project. – Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)

H.R. 6040, To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to convey certain land and facilities of the Central Valley Project. – Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA)

Reports and Regulation

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill)

Congress Next Week

June 12, 2018

Senate Committee on Appropriations – Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Markup of FY2019 Appropriations Bill

June 13, 2018

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Hearing on Water and Power Legislative Hearing

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – Hearing on the Army Corps’ Regulation of Surplus Water and the Role of States’ Rights

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry – Business Meeting: Farm Bill