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Washington Policy and Regulatory Updates

Our ENS Federal Report provides a summary and the status on select legislative and regulatory actions.
We normally issue a Report when both Chambers are in session.

Congress Returns to Work Facing Heavy Workload and Little Time for Political Games

After a week off Congress returns to Washington on Tuesday, and the agenda will be jam packed with little time to waste before the planned December end of session that is just 78 days away.  Congress and the White House will be faced with addressing tax reform or a limited tax cut, immigration and border wall policies, healthcare, infrastructure, and the perennial end of year finalization of an FY 2018 budget agreement.

Next week, the Senate will take one more stab at replacing Obamacare.  Following this action, congressional leaders are expected to focus next on tax policy and the effort to advance tax cuts by year’s end.  As of this writing, the key debate over tax reform or cuts involves how to offset any revenue losses to the U.S. Treasury that would occur from reduced tax rates.  Since early options, such as loophole closings or imposing import taxes, appear to have substantially fizzled, tax writers are again considering eliminating or restricting the deductibility of state and local taxes and the availability of no federal tax-exempt financing that could cover losses attributable to tax cuts.  The effort is opposed by a sizable number of Members in the House, garnering more than 190 Members writing in opposition.

The tax policy debate carries with it implications for infrastructure.  Originally, the Trump Administration premised its commitment to rebuilding American infrastructure by bringing back offshore profits.  However, it is uncertain whether Congress will have the ability to find common ground to reduce the tax rate on such profits, and then use repatriated funds to support public private partnerships. This means that any infrastructure policy that is developed in the coming year would most likely be shaped by support for traditional loan programs with supplemental pilot approaches to facilitate public private partnerships.  However, the notion of unleashing hundreds of millions of dollars from repatriation to support water infrastructure projects through public private partnerships seems unlikely given the tenor of the current discussions.

A tax bill earlier this summer seemed questionable because of the limited time.  However, the enactment of a stop gap spending bill to maintain government operations until December 8 means a tax and spending bill could be developed over the next two months.  The key determinate will be whether a number of Administration proposed spending reductions for the remainder of fiscal year 2018 would be reversed as a sweetener to secure enough votes to move a package through the Senate and House.  Central to this would be several natural resources programs slated for reductions.

Finally, the immigration debate and funding of a border wall remain significant issues that could unwind any agreements on spending and taxes.

USEPA Assistant Administrator Nomination Hearing Postponed

Expectations that the President’s nominee to be the next Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, David Ross, would be vetted by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works this week were dashed when the committee agreed to postpone the hearing.  The decision was not a function of any controversy surrounding Ross.  Instead, the committee determined that the limited time and Senators’ commitments this week required a delay.  The confirmation hearing is expected to occur next week.  Ross has received strong support from various stakeholders and elected officials.

Senate Committee Acts on Interior and Energy Nominees

On September 19th, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a business meeting to consider nominations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Energy:

  • Joseph Balash to be Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management
  • Richard Glick to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • David Jonas to be General Counsel of the Department of Energy
  • Kevin McIntyre to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
  • Ryan Nelson to be Solicitor of the Department of the Interior

The Committee confirmed each nomination.  All of the nominations were voted on by voice vote, except for David Jonas’ nomination, which was approved on a roll call vote.  The nominations now move to the Senate Floor to be voted on by the full Senate.  The date for the Senate Floor vote has not been scheduled.

House and Senate Set to Hold Hearings on Western Wildfires

With wildland fire suppression costs for the fiscal year exceeding $2 billion, making 2017 the most expensive year on record, there is renewed interest by Congress to move wildfire funding and forest management reforms prior to the end of the session.  This week, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will hold a hearing on legislation aimed at expediting wildfire prevention activities and reforming the current litigation process:

  • 605– Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act – Senator Daines (R-MT)
  • 1731– Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017 – Senator Thune (R-SD)

In the House, the Committee on Natural Resources will hear from witnesses on various private and public approaches to reduce the threat of wildfires and increase forest health on federal lands.  Witnesses have yet to be announced for these hearings.

The West’s Wildfires Are Taking a Toll on Reservoirs (Water Deeply)

New research predicts that an increase in the frequency and magnitude of wildfires will double the rates of sedimentation in one-third of the West’s large watersheds, reducing reservoir storage and affecting water supplies.

Improving the Health of California’s Headwater Forests

Public Policy Institute of California – Water Policy Center

Wyden, Merkley Introduce Amendment to Defense Bill to Train National Guard Members to Fight Wildfires

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

September 26

House Committee on Transportation and Natural Resources – Hearing Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Water Stakeholders’ Perspectives 2167 Rayburn House Office Building

September 27

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – Hearing on Forest Management to Mitigate Wildfires: Legislative Solutions

House Committee on Natural Resources – Hearing on Exploring Solutions to Reduce Risks of Catastrophic Wildfire and Improve Resiliency of National Forests

September 28

Senate Committee on Agriculture – Hearing on Rural Development and Energy Programs: Perspectives for the 2018 Farm Bill