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House Prepares for Floor Vote on First Fiscal Year 2020 Minibus

The House is expected to begin debate on a “minibus” spending bill (H.R. 2740) next week.  Totaling $986.8 billion, the package includes five of the twelve FY 2020 spending bills: Labor-Health and Human Services-Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State-Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development.  Members had until today to file minibus amendments to the House Committee on Rules.  The committee will consider making amendments in order early next week.

The House leadership has announced its intent to approve all FY 2020 spending bills prior to the August Recess.  The Senate Committee on Appropriations plans to consider its version of the spending bills by September.  This schedule, if met, could allow conference negotiations between the House and Senate to complete the appropriations process by October 1, when the new fiscal year begins.  However, such an outcome is consider questionable.

Key provisions in the House Energy and Water Development spending bill:

  • $1.65 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation, an increase of $82.8 million above the fiscal year 2019 level.
  • WaterSmart Program would receive $63 million for water recycling project assistance under the Title XVI program and $60 million for WaterSmart.
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funding increased by $357 million for programs and projects including studies, construction, operation, and maintenance.
  • USDOE technical assistance to support reduced energy consumption and $20 million to support the demonstration of wastewater energy efficient technologies.

A Long Road to Recovery – Disaster Relief Bill Finally Becomes Law

On June 6, the President signed into law a $19.1 billion disaster relief package (H.R. 2157).  The now law will provide direct financial assistance to communities and federal agencies damaged by hurricanes, wildfires, flooding and other natural disasters that occurred in 2018.  The measure also extends the NFIP until September 30, 2019.  Select Provisions of H.R. 2157 include:

  • $3 billion for farmers to cover crop losses,
  • $1.6 billion to repair damaged highways,
  • $720 million for the U.S. Forest Service to help cover wildfire suppression,
  • $480 million is provided for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program,
  • $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico,
  • $304 million in new Community Development Block Grant funding for Puerto Rico,
  • $120 million to help the National Park Service repair damaged public lands,
  • $50 million for improving hurricane, flooding, and wildfire forecasting capabilities, and
  • $15.5 million for the Bureau of Reclamation for fire remediation and suppression, and emergency assistance.

Western Water Infrastructure Needs Gain Congressional Focus

The coming week will reveal a reinvigorated focus on developing legislative solutions to address challenges associated with changing climate impacts like drought and other environmental impacts.  The House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife kicks off the effort with a hearing to consider two bills.  The hearing is scheduled for June 13 at 10:00 a.m. (EST)  and can be viewed on the committee’s website.

The first bill, the SAVE Our Water Act (H.R. 2473), sponsored by Representative Josh Harder (D-CA), would authorize a smorgasbord of programs to address water scarcity, sustainable water projects and disadvantaged communities’ needs.  The hearing is expected to review the bill’s provisions to establish a $300 million drought response fund, study the circumstances surrounding overdrafted groundwater basins, creation of a WIFIA-like reclamation projects financing program to support construction of water projects in the western U.S., and renew and expand funding for water recycling projects.  The legislation’s provisions to promote innovative technology to reduce energy costs, increase efficiency of reverse osmosis, and impacts to the environment and fisheries through financial awards may also be part of the hearing agenda.

The second bill the subcommittee members will examine is the Water Recycling Investment and Improvement Act (H.R. 1162).  H.R. 1162, sponsored by water recycling champion Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA), would renew the expiring water recycling grants program under the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, providing $500 million to support project grants.  It would also boost federal assistance to $30 million from the current limit of $20 million that was enacted in 1992.

A third piece of legislation that will be reviewed is H.R. 1976.  The legislation would require the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a nationwide survey of the nation’s waters to determine the extent and nature of PFAS/PFOA contamination of the waters.

Draft Senate Legislation Seeks to Address Western Water Scarcity

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has released a draft proposal to address western water scarcity and to renew select provisions of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) that address Western water resources needs.  The draft bill, which could be formally introduced within the next weeks, would authorize funding to support water recycling, desalination and surface and groundwater storage projects to alleviate the impacts associated with drought.  The draft would also authorize the creation of a WIFIA-like loan program, known as RIFIA, to extend low interest loans to construct water supply projects in the western U.S.  The bill would require the deauthorization of water recycling projects that are eligible to receive U.S. Bureau of Reclamation assistance under Title XVI to be “deauthorized” if such projects have failed to receive assistance for project construction during the past decade.  With an eye to reducing federal financial exposure, the draft would extend current WIIN provisions to allow water agencies to elect “prepayment” of capital obligations, converting from water service contracts to repayment contracts.

USEPA Sends 401 Guidance to OMB

In April, the president signed an Executive Order that directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), in consultation with states, tribes, and relevant departments and agencies, to review Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and determine if certain provisions within the section require clarification in order to streamline the Section 401 permitting process.  The CWA Section 401 requires a project applicant receive a federal license or permit that certifies the applicant will not discharge from the facility and that the applicant will comply with water quality standards.  On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finished its review of Section 401 and sent its guidance to the White House Office of Management and Budget.  Below is a summary of the guidance’s key changes to Section 401.

  • The state certification review process begins when an applicant requests a certification from the state. This is a change from prior standards when the review process began when the application for certification was complete.
  • Recommends that states, tribes, and project proponents establish a process and timeline to ensure that the necessary information is submitted to support a timely evaluation of the application.
  • If the state does not come to a certification decision within the established reasonable timeline, the federal permitting agencies are authorized to determine that the certification requirement is waived and issue a federal permit or license. The state or tribe has no legal authority to change, approve, or deny the federal agencies’ certification.
  • Recommends limiting conditions of a Section 401 certification to ensure compliance with the other CWA, federal agency(s), state, and tribal water quality provisions.
  • Encourages states and tribes to consult prior certifications, water quality data, and operating procedures to inform the review process. If the state or tribe requests additional information, such as a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review, USEPA recommends that the state or tribe does not delay action on the certification process until after NEPA is complete.

Legislative Activity This Week

H.R. 988, NEAR Act of 2019. – Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL).  Passed House by voice vote.

H.R. 1237, COAST Research Act of 2019. – Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).  Passed House by voice vote.

H.R. 1716, Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2019. – Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Passed House by voice vote.

H.R. 1921, Ocean Acidification Innovation Act of 2019. – Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). Passed House by voice vote.

New Legislation

S. 1730 and H.R. 3115, A bill to direct the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make grants to State and local governments and nongovernmental organizations for purposes of carrying out climate-resilient living shoreline projects that protect coastal communities by supporting ecosystem functions and habitats with the use of natural materials and systems, and for other purposes.– Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)/Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ)

S. 1751, A bill to amend the Reclamation Project Act of 1939 to authorize pumped storage hydropower development utilizing multiple Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs. – Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)

S. 1742, A bill to direct the Secretary of Energy to establish certain demonstration grant programs relating to the demonstration of advanced distribution systems, smart water heaters, vehicle-to-grid integration, and granular retail electricity pricing, and for other purposes. – Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

H.R. 3100, To direct the Secretary of Energy to provide for prize competitions relating to climate and energy, and for other purposes. – Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL)

Congress Next Week

June 11, 2019

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure – Hearing on Efficiency and Resiliency in Federal Building and Design and Construction

House Committee on Energy and Commerce – Hearing on Critical Mission: Former Administrators Address the Direction of the EPA

June 12, 2019

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – Hearing on A Review of Waters of the U.S. Regulations: Their Impact on States and the American People

June 13, 2019

House Committee on Natural Resources – Hearing, WOW Legislative Hearing

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Hearing to Examine the Outlook for Wildland Fire and Management Programs for 2019

June 17, 2019

House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology – Field Hearing Weathering The Storm: Improving Hurricane Resiliency Through Research