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Project Streamlining Rolls On with New White House Order

The Office of Management and Budget, in coordination with the Council on Environmental Quality, issued a memorandum this week clarifying the implementation of an August 2017 Executive Order (E.O.) that seeks to expedite large infrastructure projects ranging from transportation to water treatment.  These projects require federal reviews and approvals under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Under the E.O., a mandate to designate one federal agency as the lead decisionmaker is directed to establish an enforceable timeline of ninety days for the review and approval of a project and to permit a project within two years.  Under the issued memorandum, a state agency that has the authority to manage the NEPA review process for large transportation infrastructure projects must comply with the E.O.’s provisions.  The memorandum could become part of the ongoing infrastructure debate within Congress to develop a reinvigorated federal commitment to rebuild America’s public works by providing states with overall authority to assume NEPA reviews and approvals consistent with enforceable deadlines for permitting. 

Senate Approves Wheeler To Be USEPA Administrator

On Thursday, the Senate approved Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to be the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator on a mostly party-line vote of 52-47.  Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME), who previously supported Wheeler, voted against the nominee on Thursday.  Manchin voted against Wheeler due to the leaked reports that USEPA was not going to regulate PFAS under the Safe Drinking Water Act.   Wheeler has served as the Acting Administrator for the Agency since July.

House Committee Considers Federal Infrastructure Policy’s Role In Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change

This week, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure examined federal infrastructure policy’s role in mitigating and adapting to climate change’s effects on the nation’s infrastructure.  The hearing was organized into two panels.  The first panel focused on transportation and aviation infrastructure.  The second panel focused on water infrastructure and the benefits of utilizing natural infrastructure.

There was broad agreement among committee members that the nation’s infrastructure needs to be resilient to withstand climate stresses.  During the second panel, witnesses agreed that the federal government plays an important role in supporting and providing opportunities to update and modernize infrastructure.  Kevin DeGood, Director of Infrastructure Policy, Center for American Progress, and Lynn Scarlett, Vice President for Public Policy and Government Relations, The Nature Conservancy, stressed the need for Congress recognize natural systems as forms of successful resilient infrastructure.  James Proctor, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, McWane, Inc., testified to the need to update the nation’s water infrastructure.

Proctor explained that the nation’s water infrastructure systems are at or reaching the end of their lifecycles.  He explained that absent rehabilitation investments, water systems will be unable to manage water resources with efficiency, noting that under the current operating conditions water facilities lose 20-30% of treated water through leaky pipes.  Proctor suggested a series of congressional responses.  Proctor stated that Congress should continue to support federal funding programs, such as WIFIA and SRF, and support effective and efficient utility management approaches.  To enhance utility management, he recommended federal assistance to support of investments in new and smarter technology and skilled workforce.  Finally, Proctor recommended streamlining the regulatory and approval processes for utilities and new technologies.

On the topic of infrastructure funding, Representative Harley Rouda (D-CA) questioned the practicality of using public-private partnerships (P3’s) for all projects, noting that since certain infrastructure projects will not rise to a P3 opportunity, making it the government’s responsibility to address the issue.  He asked Proctor what projects he believed are P3 eligible projects and which are not.  Proctor prefaced his answer noting he is part of the private sector, and that there is much variety within the realm of P3’s other than consolidation and privatization that could work for a variety of projects.

Representative Carol Miller (R-WV), asked Proctor what Congress can do to be a better partner with industry to ensure jobs stay in the U.S.  Proctor provided the example of supporting domestic preferences in infrastructure projects as a possible method, citing federal Buy America requirements.

The first panels witnesses included Daniel Sperling, Board Member, California Air Resources Board, Vicki Arroyo, Executive Director, Georgetown Climate Center, Professor Thomas P. Lyon, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ben Prochazka, Vice President, Electrification Coalition, Nancy Young, Vice President, Environmental Affairs, Airlines for America.  The second panel’s witnesses included Kevin DeGood, Director, Infrastructure Policy, Center for American Progress, James M. Proctor II, Senior Vice President & General Counsel, McWane Inc., Whitley Saumweber, Director, Stephenson Ocean Security Project, Center for Strategic & International Studies, and Lynn Scarlett, Vice President, Policy and Government Affairs, The Nature Conservancy.

House Subcommittee Examines Water Supply Reliability and Possible Solutions

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife held a hearing entitled “The State of Water Supply Reliability in the 21st Century.”  Chairman Jared Huffman (D-CA) explained that the purpose of the hearing was to examine the status of the nation’s water supply reliability, the challenges that arise from the decrease in water supply reliability, and what possible solutions exist to improve water supply availability.  Huffman cited that one solution to address water supply will involve water infrastructure investment and construction to modernize current infrastructure and to build new projects that expand the nation’s water supply reliability.

During the hearing, Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA), stated that in order to enhance water supply reliability, there needs to be a refocus on “the making of water,” otherwise known as the practice of water recycling and water reuse.  However, Napolitano noted the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Title XVI Program, which funds water recycling projects in western states, is greatly underfunded at $50 million and in need of reauthorizing.  She highlighted her recently introduced bill, H.R. 1162, that permanently reauthorizes Title XVI at $500 million.  Napolitano asked Tony Willardson, Executive Director, Western States Water Council, if he believed water recycling is one of the most cost-effective practices for drought management and if there needs to be federal reinvestment in it.  Willardson responded yes, that water recycling has been called drought-proof in the past and that it is an important program and practice in need of investment.

The hearing highlighted the need to balance the needs of agriculture, fisheries, and community drinking water availability when thinking about how to address water supply reliability.

The panel included Brad Udall, Senior Water and Climate Research Scientist, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University, Jonathan Nelson, Policy Director, Community Water Center, Tony Willardson, Executive Director, Western States Water Council, Harrison Ibach, President, Humboldt Fishermen’s Marketing Association, and Bill Diedrich, Family Farm Alliance.

House Republican Assignments to Select Climate Committee

This week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) named the Republican Members to the new Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.  Representative Garret Graves (R-LA) will be Ranking Member of the committee.  Last Congress, Graves was the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment that, among other policy matters, has jurisdiction over include the Clean Water Act and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ flood, navigation and ecosystem programs.

Other Republican members assigned to the select committee includes:

  • Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
  • Gary Palmer (R-AL)
  • Buddy Carter (R-GA)
  • Carol Miller (R-WV)
  • Kelly Armstrong (R-ND)

The full roster of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis can be found here.

New Water Infrastructure Legislation Introduced in the House

This week, Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), along with Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), introduced the WATER Act of 2019 (H.R. 1417).  The legislation establishes a $35 billion water trust fund to support investments in wastewater and drinking water systems.  H.R. 1417 would make funding available to support projects grants assistance and capitalization grants for Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds using federal appropriations.  The legislation mandates the following: at least 50% of an SRF capitalization assistance grant provided to a local agency should be used to provide subsidized assistance, studies into affordability of service rates and values of regionalization of water systems, and the use of American materials (AIS).  H.R. 1417 has been referred to the House Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, and Agriculture.

Legislative Activity This Week

S. 47, John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. – Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – Passed House on a vote of 363-62; bill sent to President’s desk.

New Legislation

H.R. 1317, To improve the resilience of the built and natural environment to natural disasters and climate change using, among other measures, natural and nature-based features, and for other purposes. – Rep. Harley Rouda (D-CA)

S. 638, A bill to require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, Liability Act of 1980, and for other purposes. – Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)

S. 611, A bill to provide adequate funding for water and sewer infrastructure, and for other purposes. – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

H.R. 1435, To direct the Secretary of the Interior to take actions supporting non-Federal investments in water infrastructure improvements in the Sacramento Valley, and for other purposes. – Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA)

S. 572, A bill to provide for additional supplemental appropriations for disaster relief. – Sen. David Perdue (R-GA)

H.R. 1331, To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to reauthorize certain programs relating to nonpoint source management, and for other purposes. – Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN)

Congress Next Week

March 6, 2019

House Committee on Natural Resources – Hearing on Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety Environmental Enforcement, and the U.S. Geological Survey

House Committee on Oversight and Reform – Hearing on Examining PFAS Chemicals and their Risks

House Committee on Ways and Means – Hearing on Our Nation’s Crumbling Infrastructure and The Need For Immediate Action

March 7, 2019

House Committee on Water Resources and Environment – Hearing on “The Clean Water State Resolving Fund: How Federal Infrastructure Investment Can Help Communities Modernize Water Infrastructure and Address Affordability Challenges”