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House Democrats Vote on Leadership Positions; Pelosi One Vote Closer to Speakership

This week, House Democrats elected their party leadership for the 116th Congress.  Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who ran unopposed, won her bid to be the next Speaker of the House, 203-32.  Pelosi’s win is the first of two votes she must secure to be Speaker next year.  She must also be elected by the full House of Representatives.  A full House vote is scheduled to be held on January 3.

Below is a list of who won this week’s Democrat Party leadership races.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), elected to be Speaker-designate.
  • Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), elected to be Majority Leader.
  • Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), elected to be Majority Whip.
  • Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY), elected to be Caucus Chair.
  • Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), elected to be Assistant Democratic Leader.
  • Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), elected to be Vice Chair of Democratic Caucus.
  • Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), elected to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

House Republicans Pick Next Committee Ranking Members

The House Republican Steering Committee appointed Representative Kay Granger (R-TX) to serve as the Ranking Member on the Committee on Appropriations next year.  Granger’s selection makes her the first Republican woman to be selected for the position in the party’s history.  Granger’s selection will need to be confirmed by the Republican Conference.  If Granger is confirmed, it will be the first time in congressional history that two women will lead the House Committee on Appropriations, as Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) will chair the committee.

In other House committee news, the House Republican Conference selected Representative Sam Graves (R-MO) to become the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  The Chairman of the committee will be Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

Budget Deadline Countdown Begins

Congress returned to work this week after the Thanksgiving recess for Lame Duck session that is scheduled to last until December 13.  The most time-sensitive of the priorities is passing fiscal year 2019 budgets for a handful of outstanding agencies, which includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  When Congress was unable to finalize FY 2019 budgets for the remaining agencies in September, members passed a continuing resolution (CR) to provide temporary funding until December 7.  Now, with the CR deadline a week away, Congress must either pass legislation, pass another continuing resolution, or, absent legislative action, default to a limited governmental shutdown.

The Administration has continued to demand that any budget agreement include at least $5 billion to fund the President’s border wall; a matter of dispute as members on both sides of the aisle question the wisdom of this amount.  Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for language protecting the Special Counsel to be included in the spending bill.  And last, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced this week that he will reserve his vote on key pieces of legislation and nominations until the Senate hears from the Director of the CIA Gina Haspel on her assessment of the killing of reporter Jamal Khashoggi, which the Administration has resisted.

Senate Committee Holds Hearing on USEPA Nominee

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works considered the nomination of Alexandra Dunn to be an Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.  Currently, Dunn serves as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Region 1 Administrator.  Dunn’s nomination received broad bipartisan committee support, with a welcoming introduction from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).  Whitehouse described Dunn as someone who has worked “diligently to fulfill EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment.”

If confirmed, Dunn would manage the USEPA Office with oversight of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS) and other toxic substances.  Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) highlighted the importance for USEPA to speak clearly about the level of risk associated with the chemicals and take decisive action where and when warranted.  He asked Dunn how she would address the issue of PFAS nationally if confirmed.  Dunn explained that as Region 1 Administrator, she hosted the first regional forum on PFAS, which included engagement from community groups dealing with the chemicals.  As a result, she understands and agrees that the issue of  PFAS is a serious issue for the Agency to address.  She also told the committee that her understanding is that the Agency’s national action plan around  PFAS is to be ready soon.

A date for the committee’s vote has yet to be scheduled, but it is highly likely before Senate adjournment.

Farm Bill Positioned to Move – Status of Forest Management Provisions Unclear

Late this week, Senate Committee on Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) announced that negotiators reached a tentative agreement on a five-year farm bill.  A final agreement is contingent on a pending a Congressional Budget Office cost-analysis. According to Roberts, the agreement will include only nominal forest management provisions due to the inability of the negotiators to reach a compromise over differing House and Senate approaches to improve forest health and reduce the threats from wildfire.

According to congressional staff, agreements have been reached on the following forestry provisions:

  • Expansion of the Good Neighbor Authority (GNA) to allow the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to enter cooperative agreements or contracts with counties and tribes to perform watershed restoration and forest management services on federal forest lands.  GNA currently applies to agreements with States and Puerto Rico.
  • Creation of new competitive grant programs to support landscape scale and cross-boundary (federal/state/local/private) forest restoration projects.
    Establishment of a Watershed Condition Framework to monitor the condition of watersheds on federal lands and prioritize key watersheds for restoration.

Western Caucus Members Condemn Obstructionism; Urge Adoption of Active Forest Management Provisions in Farm Bill Negotiations

House Republicans Release Lame Duck Tax Bill – Vote Delayed

A planned Friday vote on a year-end House-Republican tax package has been postponed, leaving its future uncertain. Republicans are still working to secure enough votes for it to pass the House.

The 297-page bill includes technical corrections to the tax law passed last year, renews expiring tax incentives, enhances tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and extends biofuel-bioenergy, related tax credits through 2018.  The bill would also provide tax relief for victims of California wildfires and other natural disasters

USEPA Drinking Water Office Head To Retire

Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water (OGWDW), Peter Grevatt, announced that he is retiring in December after 30 years of government service.  As head of USEPA’s OGWDW, Grevatt has led the Agency’s efforts to address PFAS and PFOS contamination of the nation’s drinking water.  Grevatt’s last day will be December 14.

SCOTUS Reaches Decision On Endangered Species Act Case

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) unanimously ruled that the case of Weyerhaeuser Co. vs. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must be sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to be resolved.  The case centered upon the constitutionality of USFWS’ decision to designate 1,500 acres of private land in Louisiana as critical habitat for the dusty gopher frog under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In the opinion, SCOTUS directs the U.S. Court of Appeals to determine the meaning of the definition of “habitat” according to ESA, and if, based on its definition, USFWS’ designation of the 1,500 acres of private land was overly broad.  Additionally, SCOTUS directs the Appeals Court to review if USFWS considered a cost-benefit analysis of its habitat designation decision.

Second Judge Rules Error In WOTUS Repeal Process

A U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Washington ruled this week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) made a “serious procedural error” when the agencies delayed the Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS).  The judge explained that the error stems from USEPA and USACE delaying WOTUS “without providing the public with meaningful opportunity to comment as required by” the Administrative Procedure Act.

This is the second federal court ruling to find the Administration’s repeal and replace process of WOTUS procedurally problematic.  While this new ruling does not reimplement WOTUS in the 27 states where the rule’s implementation has been stayed, but it does highlight that the issue could ultimately come before the U.S. Supreme Court due to the rule’s legal complexities.

Legislative Action This Week

S. 1768, National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act of 2018. Sponsor, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – Passed House by voice vote.

S. 140, A bill to amend the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification Act of 2010 to clarify the use of amounts in the WMAT Settlement Fund. (Vehicle for Coast Guard Reauthorization). – Passed House by voice vote.

New Legislation

H.R. XXXX, Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. – Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL)

H.R. 7187, To Extend the National Flood Insurance Program until December 7, 2018.

S. 3670, A bill to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program. – Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)

Reports and Regulation

FOURTH NATIONAL CLIMATE ASSESSMENT Volume II: Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States – Summary of Findings: Water – Chapter 3

U.S. House of Representatives 2019 Calendar