ENS Federal Report – October 16, 2020
U.S. House of Representatives Leadership Decisions Loom
Currently, all eyes focus on the general election, but below the radar screen are the important congressional leadership races of House Members who will be the Democrats’ congressional leaders outside of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). At the same time, House Republicans will come together to decide who their leadership will be in the next Congress, with the expectation of Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who will remain as the Party’s leader.
Representative Hakeem Jefferis (D-NY), who serves as the Democratic Caucus Chair, announced that the votes for Democrat congressional leaders will occur on November 18-19 and the selection of committee chairs will happen after Thanksgiving. These decisions will signal how the House plans to move on policy issues during the upcoming 117th Congress that convenes January 3, 2021, and whether a centrist outlook will dominate the legislative process or a more progressive approach. It seems almost certain that the current leaders beyond the Speaker will return in their current roles. This includes Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who serves as the Majority Leader and manages the House floor schedule, Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC) will likely retain the Whip role and continue to serve at the head of the Caucus with responsibility to chart policy, and Jefferies will likely remain as the Democratic Caucus Chair.
The horse races will be for Assistant Speaker and committee chairs. The most rough and tumble contest is expected to be the Committee on Appropriations, as Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) is closing out her congressional career this year. Three members of the committee are pursuing the chair role—Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The contest carries with it an increasing interest since there is an increasingly likely prospect of the return of spending earmarks. If this proves true, the next chair would wield significant decision-making power on which projects might receive directed funding assistance. The ability to predict a winner is difficult due to the arcane rules governing the process of voting for a chair. For the most part, the other committee chairs will remain unchanged unless the chairs are defeated, which is highly unlikely, or if Biden win the election and select a chair for an administration position.
White House and Democrats Continue COVID – 19 Relief Negotiations
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) appear to have inched closer to a potential deal on COVID-19 relief legislation this week, with President Trump stating recently that he is willing to raise his offer of $1.8 trillion for a relief package to get a deal with Pelosi. On Thursday, Mnuchin announced that the White House reached an agreement in principle with House Democrats to provide another round of $1,200 stimulus checks and additional assistance for the airline industry and small businesses. However, negotiations continue for how to provide direct state and local assistance and establish a national strategic testing plan that includes additional funding for testing, contact tracing, and vaccine distribution. According to Pelosi, Mnuchin stated that the President would personally speak with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) if the House Democrats and the White House agree to a deal.
However, McConnell has made it clear that he does not support the $1.8 trillion offer made by Mnuchin and has scheduled a vote on October 19 on a $500 billion standalone bill. The bill is expected to include funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, provide another round of tax rebates and liability protections for businesses, schools and colleges. With McConnell’s obstinacy over the relief package, the presidential election in two and half weeks away, and the Senate currently preoccupied with the confirmation of judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, it is unlikely that any deal on a COVID relief package will be struck before the elections, but the prospect for an eventual deal is not necessarily dead.
Water Resources Development Act Update
House and Senate committee staff tasked with developing a compromise Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) rewrite continued their efforts to find common ground between the House and Senate bills, which have distinctively different policy approaches. As reported previously, the House bill, H.R. 7575, is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) targeted measure. The Senate’s bifurcated approach, S. 3590 and S. 3591, addresses USACE flood and navigation projects and also integrates water infrastructure program spending authorizations, such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s state revolving loan fund program and climate resiliency.
The House Committee Transportation & Infrastructure approved a stand-alone clean water infrastructure bill earlier this fall, H.R 1497, and it is reportedly serving as a counter to the Senate WRDA’s clean water provisions during discussions. Additionally, water resources related provisions within the House-passed Moving Forward Act, H.R. 2, might also be considered as part of any final agreement. However, with Congress effectively on recess until November 16, any agreement will likely be acted upon in the final weeks of the congressional session.
Executive Order Establishes USEPA Water Subcabinet
This week, the President signed an Executive Order (EO) on “Modernizing America’s Water Resource Management and Water Infrastructure.” The EO establishes an interagency federal Water Policy Committee, referred to as the Water Subcabinet, to better coordinate agencies’ water resource management and infrastructure policies and actions. The Subcabinet will be co-chaired by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler and U.S. Department of the Interior (USDOI) Secretary David Bernhardt and be comprised of senior officials from USEPA, USDOI, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Army Civil Works. To ensure coordination across the government, the Subcabinet will also work closely with the White Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The purpose of the Subcabinet’s mission to better coordinate federal agencies’ water resource policies is to ensure that the federal government develops and delivers efficient and effective water management practices that support the modernization of the nation’s water supplies and infrastructure systems. Additionally, the increased coordination will avoid duplication of policies among the agencies. To achieve these goals, the Subcabinet will focus on three topics:
Modernizing America’s Infrastructure – Streamline the federal government’s approach to managing water resources, while also upgrading and safeguarding water infrastructure, and modernize current water resources management practices to increase reliability of water supplies.
Improving The Nation’s Water Resource Management – Develop a national water strategy that enhances water storage, water supply, and drought resiliency; improves water quality, source water protection, nutrient management, and restoration activities; supports innovation and modernization of water systems (including wastewater, drinking water, water reuse, desalination, and flood control); advance water data management, research, modeling, and forecasting. Additionally, the Subcabinet will determine and recommend agency actions that promote coordination and planning for Federal investments in water infrastructure.
Creating Opportunities For American Water Workers – Coordinate with other federal agencies to provide assistance and technical support to States, local communities, Tribes, and non-governmental entities to improve nation’s water workforce.
Senator Murkowski Signals Action on Wildfire Legislation During Lame Duck
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced, in a tweet, that she is working with Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to advance S. 4431, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020 this year. S. 4431 would accelerate post-fire restoration and reforestation, support collaborative private-public forest restoration projects, and increase treatments near power lines to reduce the risk of wildfire.
On a call with Senate staff, they stated that it is not clear if there would be time during the lame duck session for a formal hearing and mark-up of S. 4431. If this is the case, they said that they are looking at attaching S. 4431 to any potential year-end public lands omnibus package. A public lands omnibus package may include the following bipartisan wildfire bills:
S. 4127, the Treating Tribes and Counties as Good Neighbors Act, Sponsored by James Risch (R-ID)
S. 2882, the Wildfire Defense Act. – Sponsored by Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA)
S. 4625, the National Prescribed Fire Act of 2020. – Sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
USEPA Appoints Members to Science Advisory Board
On Tuesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler appointed six new members to the Agency’s Science Advisory Board (SAB), as well as the selection of John Graham as the new Chair of SAB and Barbara Beck as Vice-Chair. SAB is responsible for peer reviewing and advising USEPA on its science and use of scientific research. Graham served as the Administrator of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under the George W. Bush Administration. SAB members serve three-year long appoint terms, so the selection of Graham to Chair will remain regardless of who wins the Presidential election next month.
Reports and Regulation
USEPA Grant Announcement: Evaluation of Pollutants in Biosolids– USEPA is seeking applications proposing research that will provide the best available science needed to support states, municipalities, and utilities in determining potential risk from pollutants found in biosolids and developing standards and policies for biosolids management.
USEPA – Water Utility COVID-19 Financial Impact Tool – Intended to assist drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities assess the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the utility’s cash flow.
Executive Order on Establishing the One Trillion Trees Interagency Council – Executive Order directing the creation of a council that will develop, coordinate, and promote federal government’s interactions with the Initiative with respect to tree growing, restoration, and conservation, and with coordinating with key stakeholders to help advance the World Economic Forum’s One Trillion Trees initiative.
Joint Stakeholder Letter Responding to USEPA Water Financing Guidance – Letter from water sector stakeholders to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) on its recent proposed guidance on Developing a New Framework for Household Affordability and Financial Capability Assessment in the Water Sector.