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New House Bill Reinvests in Water Infrastructure

This week, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) introduced a bipartisan SRF reauthorization bill, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2018 (H.R. 1497).  Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Representatives Don Young (R-AK), and John Katko (R-NY) are original cosponsors.  The bill will be considered by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and it is expected to be marked-up later this spring at the earliest.

The key provisions of the bill include:

  •  Authorizes $4 billion for each of fiscal years 2020 – 2024 for the Clean Water SRF;
  • Authorizes $300 million for each of fiscal years 2020 – 2024 for state management assistance;
  • Authorizes $120 million for each of fiscal years 2020 – 2024 to carry out watershed pilot projects;
  • Redefines “alternative water source projects” as wastewater, stormwater, or by treating wastewater or stormwater and authorizes $75 million for each of fiscal years 2020 – 2024 ; and
  • Revises grants assistance for sewer overflow and stormwater reuse projects from 2020 to 2024.

Bill Introduced To Deliver Money To Water-Storage Projects

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced H.R. 1600 this week.  The bill would redirect $3.5 billion in federal funding originally authorized for California’s high-speed rail project to California water-storage projects.  H.R. 1600 specifies that funding would be authorized for five projects covered in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN).  The authorized projects are Sites Reservoir, Temperance Flat, expansion of Shasta and Los Vaqueros reservoirs, and repairs to Friant-Kern Canal.  Ten percent of the funding would be reserved for rural communities to decrease nitrates in drinking water.

Under the WIIN Act, $350 million was authorized for western water-storage project permitting activities.  However, additional congressional action is needed to build the projects using WIIN funding.  Last Congress, McCarthy and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) supported a WIIN extension that increased funding by $650 million, but the legislation failed to pass Congress.

H.R. 1600 has been referred to the Committees on Transportation and Infrastructure, Natural Resources, and Agriculture.

House Examines Water and Energy Policy Concerns

The House continued to focus on energy and water policy this week by holding a series of hearings examining policy issues related to water infrastructure financing, water quality, and the water-energy nexus.  Below are summaries of the key House committee hearings.

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

This week, the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing to examine the overwhelming need for water infrastructure funding and review full committee Chairman Peter DeFazio’s (D-OR), recently introduced legislation to renew the Clean Water SRF Program (H.R. 1497).  Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR) each highlighted the growing challenges of providing necessary resources to address current water quality needs and help to close the funding gap exceeding half a trillion dollars across the nation. Committee members universally spoke about the need to acknowledge that the crisis is both urban and rural and that clean and reliable water is a right, noting that communities should have access to assistance regardless of an ability to pay.  Generally, the witnesses were united in the call to support the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF), endorsing H.R 1497’s five-year $20 billion authorization of the program.

In a forceful presentation, Mayor David Condon of Spokane, WA, representing the U.S. Conference of Mayors, highlighted the vital need for funding assistance, citing the value of the SRF to help utilities meet construction needs without imposing financial burdens on ratepayers.   He also called for regulatory flexibility to reduce costs of compliance and to address affordability issues.  Other witnesses echoed this point, citing the crucial need to recognize that even with SRF assistance, many communities lack the resources to construct facilities without imposing increased rates that can lead to an inability of rate-payers to pay for services.  This can then result in shutting-off rate-payer water services.  To address this issue, one recommendation was to address this circumstance by creating an assistance program similar to the heating assistance program created to help out families unable to pay the cost of heating needs.  Condon also called for support of technology innovation to support compliance that can reduce costs.  Finally, he congratulated the subcommittee for its success in authorizing integrated planning that holds the promise of reducing compliance costs, while protecting human health.

Representatives of organizations representing the interests of environmental justice and disadvantaged communities agreed with Condon.  Echoing Condon’s concerns over affordability, they noted that it is vital to address the affordability issue because the costs of service delivery have become an unsustainable burden for many communities that must update treatment capacity.  Jill Heaps, Assistant Professor of Law, Vermont Law School, recommended congressional action to address the affordability issues.  She suggested increasing the SRF investment by providing $6 billion annually, using WIFIA to address the funding gap, providing additional funding for disadvantaged communities, establishing a right to water modeled after California’s approach, and developing policies that address affordability.

Responding to the testimony, DeFazio cited the value of the SRF.  He pointed out that public-private partnerships (P3’s) were subjected to extensive evaluation during the past Congress and the review found that P3 approaches for water utilities do not pencil out because such projects require a return on investment that cannot compete with an SRF loan.

During the hearing’s discussion, witnesses noted that some communities still lack basic sanitation and that it would be valuable to provide block grants to citizens to support financial needs, as well as to provide direct grants assistance to develop large infrastructure projects.  Napolitano agreed about the value of addressing the water needs of communities.

Witnesses were also asked to comment on the appropriateness of addressing common sense regulatory reform such as providing “good actors” with extended permit terms.  In response, the subcommittee heard that providing extended terms would be absolutely helpful in reducing compliance costs to ensure that the permit terms are better aligned with construction schedules and the life cycle of technologies.

In closing the hearing, Napolitano restated her commitment to addressing the funding needs of communities through the SRF, tackling the under investments in water infrastructure due to affordability issues, and working to close the funding gap.  It is expected that the subcommittee and committee will proceed in the coming weeks to markup H.R. 1497 in anticipation of an infrastructure package being reported to the House floor later this spring, according to congressional statement on the schedule.

Testifying at the hearing were Mayor David A. Condon, City of Spokane, Washington, on behalf of the United States Conference of Mayors, John Mokszycki, Water and Sewer Superintendent, Town of Greenport, New York, on behalf of the National Rural Water Association, Catherine Flowers, Rural Development Manager, The Equal Justice Initiative, Maureen Taylor, State Chairperson, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Andrew Kricun, P.E., BCEE, Executive Director/Chief Engineer, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Camden, New Jersey, on behalf of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, Professor Jill Heaps, Assistant Professor of Law, Vermont Law School.

House Committee on Oversight and Reform

On March 6, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing entitled, “PFAS Chemicals and their Risks.”  The hearing focused on health effects associated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exposure, the response by the U.S. Department of Defense to address exposure in and around military facilities, and, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) action plan.

Chairman Harley Rouda (D-CA) opened the hearing calling on the Administration to take serious action to fully address the health and environmental threat of PFAS and act quickly to establish a national maximum contaminant level (MCL) for PFAS chemicals. Ranking Member James Comer (R-KY) expressed a commitment to continue working with Chairman Rouda to address the issue.

The hearing heard from Representatives Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who founded the bipartisan PFAS Task Force, testified to the need to address PFAS contamination. Kildee highlighted his introduction of H.R.535, the PFAS Action Act of 2019 and testified that H.R. 535 would require USEPA to designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.  The bill would authorize $50 million for the U.S. Geologic Survey to conduct surveys nationwide.

Fitzpatrick testified that, while he is concerned about the health risks associated with PFAS, he is worried about potential over regulation that may result in excessive compliance cost to municipal water agencies.  In 2017, Fitzpatrick included a provision in the Department of Defense spending bill requiring DoD to carry out a nation-wide, five-year human health effects study on these chemicals.   

Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment (DoD) testified that DoD is committed to mitigating PFAS in the drinking water it supplies, as well as addressing releases to the environment under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) that are the direct result of DoD operations.

Dave Ross, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, testified that USEPA is committed to following the MCL rulemaking process and to make a proposed regulatory decision by the end of 2019.  Ross highlighted the following actions outlined in a PFAS Action Plan released in February 2019 to address PFAS exposure:

  • Evaluating the need for a maximum contaminant level for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), which are two of the most well-known and prevalent PFAS chemicals.
  • Evaluating possible designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances;
  • Developing groundwater cleanup recommendations for PFOA and PFOS at contaminated sites; and,
  • Developing new analytical methods and tools for understanding and managing PFAS risk.

In response to committee questions, Ross was unequivocal in stating that the USEPA is committed to further regulating PFAS and acknowledged that PFAS contamination is a major emerging national issue.

Known PFAS Contamination of Tap Water or Groundwater at Military Installations – Environmental Working Group

Democrat Senators Letter Requesting Documents on PFAS Action Plan

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology

On Thursday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Energy held a hearing entitled, “The Energy Water Nexus: Drier Watts and Cheaper Drops.”  It focused on the interconnection between energy and water resources (energy-water nexus).  As explained by Chairman Conor Lamb (D-PA), the energy-water nexus represents how the process to produce energy requires significant water resources, and the process to produce clean water requires significant energy resources.  The purpose of the hearing was to examine the current shortcomings of the nation’s energy-water nexus, and innovative solutions to correct the shortcomings.  There was broad agreement among committee members and witnesses that there is a need to enhance the nation’s energy-water nexus.

In his opening statement, Lamb stated that this topic is not new to Congress and highlighted the Energy and Water Integration Act of 2019 (H.R. 34), which aims to decrease energy and water use intensity by integrating water production, use, and treatment considerations throughout the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) research and development (R+D) programs.  Lamb noted that the energy-water nexus is regionally specific.  The relationship between energy and water will be different in the Western than in the Eastern U.S. and in coastal verses noncoastal areas.  As a result, solutions to enhance the energy-water nexus will have to be innovative and multifaceted.

Michael Webber, Chief Science and Technology Officer, ENGIE Group and Josey Centennial Professor in Energy Resources, University of Texas at Austin, testified to one major area for the energy-water nexus, the nation’s water and wastewater systems.  He testified to the importance of combined water and wastewater systems in modern societies, but noted that these systems require vast amounts of energy to treat and distribute water.  Webber added that water is not only used for drinking, but also for other uses, such as heating buildings.  As a result, the energy-water nexus of water and wastewater sector is ripe for innovative solutions.  He emphasized the importance of federally sponsored R+D programs and recommended that DOE should consider water resources as starting point for R+D programs, as well as establishing robust water resources data collection programs.

Representative Sean Casten (D-IL) discussed the need for improved water metering and asked Webber if he thinks there are gaps in water resource data given the inconsistency in metering.  Webber agreed with Casten, stating that the water metering world lags behind the energy metering world and, thus, the water data world lags behind the energy data world.  He specified that smart water meters are needed in the homes of water users and along the water distribution system in order to track where infrastructure repairs are needed.  Casten followed, asking how confident the panelists were that groundwater data is reliable and what the federal government can do to help.  Webber responded that there is a lack of metering of groundwater and recommended that the federal government establish a water tracking system, so people can make more informed choices and plans for how to use their capital based on where water resource issues are. 

Witnesses testifying at the hearing included: Vincent Tidwell, Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff, Sandia National Laboratories, and Kate Zerrenner, Senior Manager, Environmental Defense Fund, Richard Bonner, VP of R&D, Advanced Cooling Technologies Inc., Raman P. Singh, Associate Dean for Engineering at OSU-Tulsa; Professor and Head, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Oklahoma State University, and Michael Webber, Chief Science and Technology Officer at ENGIE; Professor at UT Austin

Reports and Regulation

Army Issues New Regulatory Guidance for Mitigation Banks – Story on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ February Regulatory Guidance Letter on “Mitigation Bank Credit Release Schedules and Equivalency in Mitigation Bank and In-Lieu Fee Program Service Areas.”

Report on Community Wildfire Prevention & Mitigation Report – CAL FIRE recommendations on priority fuel reduction projects and administrative, regulatory, and policy changes.

Congress Next Week

March 12, 2019

House Committee on Natural Resources – Hearing on Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Forest Service, and the Power Marketing Administrations