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Chairman Shuster Reveals Draft Infrastructure Plan – Little Traction Expected

This week, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) released a discussion draft and bill “to further the national conversation about the current state of America’s infrastructure.”  The draft lacks the public support of Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR).  The discussion draft might become formal legislation in the coming month of September when the House returns from its six-week summer recess.  It could also serve as the Chairman’s marker on House infrastructure priorities in anticipation of a House Senate conference committee that should convene later this fall to reconcile differences between America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 2800) and Water Resource Development Act (H.R. 8).

The draft includes provisions to accelerate project permitting approvals and delivery, protect the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund, and promote transportation and water infrastructure investments. Select provisions include:

Accelerating Project Delivery

  • Would codify the Administration’s “one federal decision” (Executive Order 13807) establishing a coordinated and timely process for environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects.
  • Would establish a pilot program to allow for the use of innovative approaches to the environmental review process to accelerate project delivery.

Investment in Water Infrastructure

  • Amends Clean Water Act Section 401 (water quality certification) to clarify that states may only consider water quality requirements that “are consistent with the intent and goals” of the law and “with appropriate water quality requirements under state law.”
  • Reauthorize the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program, making the program a permanent program at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
  • Authorizes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to enter into agreement with USEPA administrative assistance related to Corps WIFIA program
  • Revises WIFIA assistance to allow up to 80% of a project’s costs to be funded (currently WIFIA is limited to 49% of a project’s costs)
  • Increases WIFIA funding to $50 million annually through 2024
  • Authorizes Clean Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) at $3 billion annually
  • Authorizes as a priority SRF assistance to smaller communities (populations of 10,000 or less)
  • Clarifies certification (CWA section 401) to be targeted to “water” quality standards
  • Adopts elements of SRF-WIN proposals to provide expedited WIFIA application reviews and limiting environmental review duplication

Highway Trust Fund – Investment in Transportation Infrastructure

  • Phases in a 15-cent gasoline and a 20-cent diesel user fee increase over three years and indexing the fee to inflation
  • Extends all user fees through 2028
  • Directs the Secretary of Transportation to award competitive transportation infrastructure grants as part of the National Infrastructure Investments Program (30 percent to projects in rural areas
  • Repeals a prior mandate to rescind $7.6 billion in federal highway funding scheduled for 2020
  • Promotes asset management and public-private partnerships without expanding toll pilot programs
  • Proposes a national, voluntary vehicle-miles-traveled fee pilot program

Senate Committee Considers USDA Nomination

On July 24, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry considered the nomination of James Hubbard to be U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment.  The Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment is responsible for advising USDA Secretary of Agriculture on policies that promote conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.  Hubbard has served as the Colorado State Forester for 20 years.

Hubbard testified that, if confirmed, his top three priorities will be to: 1) provide a safe and inclusive work environment, 2) increase sustainable active land management, and 3) share fire protection across jurisdictions.  In response to a question from Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) about how he would improve forest management coordination between federal and private boundaries, Hubbard emphasized the importance of cross-boundary coordination between the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and states to determine what areas need to be prioritized for land management and working with regional foresters to develop an action plan and determine how to best implement USFS assets and resources.

Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), highlighted that on average, it can take USFS three to four years to prepare an environmental impact statement for major federal actions that significantly affect the environment.  Daines asked Hubbard whether this timeline for environmental reviews is reasonable and if he thinks the review process should be streamlined.  Hubbard said that he does not believe that the timeline to complete reviews is acceptable and that the process should be streamlined.  But, at the same time, he emphasized the importance of public input to remain part of the process under any streamlining measures.

Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) closed the hearing stating that the committee will hold a vote on nomination in the near future.

Legislative Activity This Week

H.R. 519, Water and Agriculture Tax Reform Act of 2017.  Passed House under suspension of the rules.

Reports, News and Regulations

The Great Era of California Dam Building May Be Over. Here’s What’s Next (KQED) – Story on the water projects that the California Water Commission will allocate funding to and the complexity surrounding water supply storage in California.

NOAA Satellite images of Carr Fire – Redding CA

Congress Next Week

The House is on August recess starting next week.  The Senate will remain in session and is expected to recess August 6 for one week, returning to work for the remainder of the month of August.

August 1

Senate Committee Environment and Public Works – Hearing on “Examining EPA’s Agenda: Protecting the Environment and Allowing America’s Economy to Grow.”