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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.

ENS Federal Report – January 12, 2018

Department of the Interior Moving Westward?

Press reports this week indicate that the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to reorganize DOI and move many of the DOI’s Bureaus into the West.  Since the formal plan has yet to be released, the scope of the Department’s plan is still unclear.  Regardless of the ultimate proposal, Congress must approve any reorganization plan and it is uncertain how Congress will respond.

Maps reveal Zinke plans for historic overhaul

Senate Committee Begins WRDA 2018 Review

On January 10, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held the first of a series of hearings exploring possible water infrastructure assistance options.  This week’s hearing entitled “America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges” focused on port infrastructure.

During the hearing, there was broad bipartisan support for water resource infrastructure.  All Committee Senators called for action on a 2018 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  Those testifying at the hearing included: Julie Ufner, Associate Legislative Director of the National Association of Counties (NACO), Scott Robinson, Port Director of the Muskogee City-County Port Authority, Steve Cochran, Associate Vice-President for Coastal Protection of the Environmental Defense Fund & Director of the Restore the Mississippi Delta Coalition, William Friedman, Chairman-elect of the American Association of Port Authorities, and Nicole Carter, Natural Resources Policy Specialist of the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

Ufner represented western counties at the hearing.  She explained that water issues are especially complex in the West, and that counties are often burdened with the responsibility of maintaining the infrastructure with limited funding resources. Ufner stressed that Congress has the opportunity to address permitting challenges within Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and identify better funding mechanisms to pay for projects.  She also encouraged Congress to promote programs that rely on the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) and local governments collaboration.

Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) asked Ufner what can be done to deal with the lengthy and costly USACE project process.  Ufner suggested improving intergovernmental cooperation between USACE and local governments to help shorten project timelines.

Ranking Democrat Tom Carper (D-DE) asked CRS’s Nicole Carter, given the recent tax reform, crumbling infrastructure, and project backlog at USACE, what the next WRDA should include to address these issues.  Carter responded that WRDA 2014 established nonfederal involvement in the project process, and suggested that Congress should continue to allow nonfederal involvement and expand how nonfederal entities and USACE can work together to meet project deadlines.

Next Steps

The Senate and House will continue to hold hearings focusing on water resources policy and infrastructure.  The next scheduled hearing is the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power’s hearing entitled “To Examine the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title Transfer Process and Potential Benefits to Federal and Non-Federal Stakeholders” on January 17.  The Committee on Environment and Public Works plans to hold two more hearings focusing on WRDA issues.  The first will be on January 17 focusing on USACE and the second is tentatively scheduled for January 31 with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.  The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will hold a hearing entitled “America’s Water Resources Infrastructure: Approaches to Enhanced Project Delivery” on January 18.

Nomination News

This week, the White House announced that they have re-nominated nominees who did not secure Senate confirmation before the end of 2017.  No date(s) have been announced for Senate hearings on the nominations.  The re-nominated nominees include:

  • Kathleen Hartnett White, to be a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
  • Andrew Wheeler, to be Deputy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
  • Barry Myers, to be Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Susan Combs to be assistant Interior secretary of policy management and budget

New Congress, New Committee Assignments

As Congress started its new legislative session this week, and welcomed new Members, new committee assignments were given out by the leadership offices.   The new committee assignments include:

  • Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) will be leaving her post on the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to join the Committee on the Judiciary. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) will be taking Harris’ spot on EPW.
  • Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) will sit on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Committee on Indian Affairs, and Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP).
  • Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has been appointed to the Committee on Finance.
  • Newly-elected Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is assigned to the Committee on Banking, Committee on HELP, Special Committee on Aging, and Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
  • Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) was selected to sit on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Legislative Action This Week

H.R. 3133, Streamlining Environmental Approvals Act of 2017.  House Committee on Natural Resources reported H.R. 3133 out of Committee on voice-vote.

Reports and Regulation News

Assessing the Climate in 2017 – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s report on the climate during 2017, which was the third warmest year on record.

USDA Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Release Recommendations to Revitalize Rural America – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s press release about the report sent to President Trump outlining recommendations to promote growth and innovation in rural America.

New Legislation

H.R. 4739, Build America Act of 2018. – Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)

S. 2284 – Act of 2018. Rob Portman (R-OH)

S. 2290, A bill to improve wildfire management operations and the safety of firefighters and communities with the best available technology. – Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

Congress Next Week

 January 17, 2018

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works hearing – America’s Water Infrastructure Needs and Challenges: Federal Panel

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power – Hearing to Examine the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title Transfer Process and Potential Benefits to Federal and Non-Federal Stakeholders

January 18, 2018

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing – America’s Water Resources Infrastructure: Approaches to Enhanced Project Delivery

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Full Committee Hearing to Consider DOE Nominees

House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing – Modernizing the Superfund Cleanup Program