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Senate Passes Second FY 2019 Minibus

The Senate continued to make progress, advancing fiscal year 2019 spending bills before the October 1 deadline.  The Senate overwhelmingly passed, 93-7, the second minibus (H.R. 6157).  The bill would fund programs at the Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Labor and Health and Human Services.  A House vote is expected on H.R. 6157 next week.  Notably, H.R. 6157 is also the vehicle to avoid a government shut-down for agencies that Congress has yet to arrive at funding compromises.  This includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

Assuming House passage of H.R. 6157, eight of the twelve appropriations bills will be in place prior to the start of fiscal year 2019.  However, the third minibus (H.R. 6147) that contains the Interior and Environment spending bill remains subject to conference committee negotiations due to disagreements over certain policy riders.  While conference negotiators remain optimistic about final passage of H.R. 6147, lawmakers decided to pass a continuing resolution to continue funding for USEPA, and the other agencies within H.R. 6147, through December 7.

Despite Congress’ success in advancing a number of fiscal year 2019 spending bills, it could be upended if President Trump vetos the bills.  President Trump has publicly criticized the congressional appropriations process and the spending bills that fail to fund his U.S.-Mexico border wall at levels he has requested.  If he does not sign the spending bills into law, the government will shut down.  Most recently, the President used twitter this week to complain about H.R. 6157 and its lack of funding for his border wall.  He did not say whether he would shut down the government over it.

President Trump signed into law the first minibus, H.R. 5895, today.  H.R. 5895 contains the Energy-Water Development spending bill that funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure programs.

Senate Passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act Hinges on Release of Members’ Holds

Earlier this summer, House passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3021) seemed to be in a legislative kumbaya moment as the House Senate compromise sailed through the House and moved to the Senate for a final vote.  S. 3021 is the key water resources development bill that recommits to funding water and wastewater project needs, as well as to establishing new programs to address stormwater, resiliency and lead in drinking water.

Today, S. 3021 remains locked in place on the Senate legislative calendar as a handful of “holds” have been placed on the bill.  These holds effectively prevent Senate leadership from securing an agreement to move the bill under expedited procedures known as Unanimous Consent.  According to Senate staff, the key dispute involves the permanent authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) that supports ecosystem protection projects.  LWCF expires on September 30 and failure to renew the Fund would end the authority to collect revenues that could be used to support projects.  However, there are currently tens of millions of dollars unobligated in the Fund, so failure to renew its authorization would not immediately impact the ability to maintain LWCF activities.  The priority to permanently authorize the program has led Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) to seek to include, unsuccessfully, permanent authorization language in a number of bills.  Opposition to the effort centers on a desire to address the effort through the normal legislative review process rather than an amendment to a spending bill, for example.  As a result, S. 3021’s passage in the Senate has become caught up in the debate over how best to address LWCF.

As of this writing, it appears that action on the S. 3021 will be a function of finding a legislative solution to authorize LWCF permanently or, at a minimum, a multi-year renewal.  While a resolution to this issue is vital to S. 3021’s prospects for enactment, a handful of non-flood protection issues addressing water supply issues also demands attention to smooth passage of the bill.  If a resolution is not found on these various issues, final Senate action on S. 3021 could spill into the Lame Duck Session later this fall.

House Republicans Set Hearing on Package of Endangered Species Act Bills

On September 26, the House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a legislative hearing to receive testimony on a package of nine Republican-sponsored bills designed to reform the Endangered Species Act.  The bills are expected to be marked up by the committee during the week of October 1.

The Republican sponsors, who are members of the Congressional Western Caucus, characterize the bills as efforts to modernize the Endangered Species Act to allow enhanced local input and voluntary conservation efforts.  National environmental organizations have tagged the bills as “extinction bills” that would do more harm than good.

One of the bills, H.R. 6346, would require federal agencies to consider current and proposed conservation measures when analyzing a project that may jeopardize the existence of an endangered or threatened species.  Additional bills to be heard include:

  • R. 6354, the STORAGE Act of 2018 (Rep. Paul Gosar R-AZ), would “prohibit designation as critical habitat of certain areas in artificial water diversion or delivery facilities.”
  • H.R. 6344, the LOCAL Act of 2018 (Rep. Scott Tipton R-CO), To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to encourage voluntary conservation efforts.
  • H.R. 6360, the PREDICTS Act of 2018 (Rep. Ralph Norman R-SC), To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to provide for greater certainty and improved planning for incidental take permit holders.
  • H.R. 6345, the EMPOWERS Act of 2018 (Rep. Stevan Pearce R-NM), To provide for greater county and State consultation regarding petitions under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and for other purposes.
  • H.R. 3608, The Endangered Species Transparency and Reasonableness Act (Rep. Tom McClintock R-CA), To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to require publication on the Internet of the basis for determinations that species are endangered species or threatened species, and for other purposes.
  • H.R. 6364, the LAMP Act of 2018 (Rep. Don Young R-AK), To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to increase State and local involvement in management plans.
  • H.R. 6356, the LIST Act of 2018 (Rep. Andy Biggs R-AZ), To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to provide for improved precision in the listing, delisting, and downlisting of endangered species and potentially endangered species.
  • H.R. 6355, the PETITION Act of 2018 (Rep. Bruce Westerman R-AZ), To amend the Endangered Species Act of 1973 to define petition backlogs and provide expedited means for discharging petitions during such a backlog.

New Executive Director Appointed to Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council

Alex Herrgott will be the new Executive Director of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC).  The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act directed the creation of FPISC to coordinate permit renewal and approval across fifteen federal agencies and departments.  Herrgott is currently the Associate Director for Infrastructure at the Council on Environmental Quality.

Reports and Regulation

California’s Plan to Store Water Underground Could Risk Contamination – A KQED story on the possible risks of Chromium entering California’s groundwater through underground aquifers.

Congress Next Week

September 26, 2018

House Committee on Natural Resources – Full Committee Legislative Hearing

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – Hearing on Cleaning Up the Oceans: How to Reduce the Impact of Man-Made Trash on the Environment Wildlife, and Human Health