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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
December 16, 2022

Congress Passes Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA) 

This week, the House and Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that served as the vehicle to pass the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (H.R. 7776).  The WRDA section is notable for its focus on climate resilience and directing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to implement programs that address sea level rise, storm surges and restoring watersheds.  Congress’ decision to restore earmarks delivered hundreds of new environmental infrastructure authorizations that will allow USACE to partner with local agencies in the years ahead to construct water infrastructure projects including water, wastewater, and water recycling projects.  

 

In a nod to the heightened importance to address climate impacts, the bill doubles down on programs like Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) that can enhance water supply storage and reliability through the innovative use of flood protection programs.  The bill also directs USACE to revise flood control manuals to ensure that flood control facilities operations align with the new climate realities.  Questions surrounding whether Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) permitting reform proposal would catch a ride on the legislation were resolved when the Senate rejected a Manchin amendment by a vote of 47-47.  The amendment required 60 votes to be adopted and the loss avoided the need for the amended bill to be re-voted on by the House.  The underlying NDAA is a must-pass bill for Congress and therefore the president will sign H.R. 7776 into law.

 

New Committee Structures Taking Shape in House and Senate

With Congress convening the 118th Congress on January 3, 2023, jockeying for committee leadership appointments has already started.  One race involves the Ranking Democrat for the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rick Larsen (D-WA) both vied for the position.  The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee this week recommended that Larsen assume the position. Other assignment for chairs and ranking positions can be viewed in Bloomberg News’ charts here.

 

The Washington parlor game of speculating on whether Representative Kevin McCarthy secures the votes to become Speaker of the House, remains ongoing. As of this writing, McCarthy has five solid “no” votes that would deny him the required 218 votes to secure election as Speaker.  McCarthy enjoys the strong backing of his conference, but because of the unwavering opposition five Members, the ultimate decision appears likely to go down to the wire at this writing. 

 

New Leadership For USEPA Green Funding Program

This week, Jahi Wise started his term as Senior Advisor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Administrator, as well as Acting Director for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund program. Wise will help the USEPA Administrator Michael Regan lead the effort to allocate the $27 billion in funding provided in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to help communities fight climate change. 

 

The funding is intended to help communities, with a focus on disadvantaged communities, invest in clean energy technologies and make climate investments. Eligible funding activities range from investing in heat pumps to solar power to electric vehicle charging stations and renewable energy installations. The IRA earmarked $7 billion of the total $27 billion to go to states, municipalities, and local governments. The remaining $20 billion is to go to nonprofits to distribute funding to local financial institutions, such as state green banks.  

 

Under IRA, USEPA has until February 12, 2023 to allocate the funding. This means that Wise and Administrator Regan will need to develop a plan for how to efficiently and equitably award funding over the next 45 days. Wise stated that the Agency is currently considering the different options. Of the options the Agency is considering there are three central ones: 

 

  • Creating a national green bank to be responsible for distributing funding to secondary recipients like nonprofits and lending agencies. 

  • Using intermediaries to distribute funding. 

  • Combining the first two options to create a green bank and use intermediary lenders to distribute funding. 

 

Wise and the Agency are reviewing responses received following a 45-day public comment period on program implementation procedures and a public engagement effort launched earlier this fall. USEPA also continues to work with the Environmental Finance Advisory Board, Local Government Advisory Committee, National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to ensure the program delivers on its intended purpose.

 

Senators Probe Interior Department Infrastructure Funding Actions

Tommy Beaudreau, Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Interior’s Implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Under the IIJA, Interior received over $30 billion, which represents double what the Department receives in its annual budget. Of the $30 billion, $8.3 billion is for water infrastructure programs and $1.5 billion for wildland fire preparedness, fuels management and post fire rehabilitation. In, his written testimony, Boudreau stated that Interior has allocated, to date, $257 million for accelerating the pace and scale of fuels management work. In addition, $39 million has been allocated to accelerate burned area rehabilitation, and $5 million for fire science research.

Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WVA) and Ranking Member John Barrasso (R-WY) criticized DOI’s failure to conduct oil and gas lease sales. Boudreau assured the members that DOI is moving forward with onshore leasing through the Bureau of Land Management. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Senator Mark Kelly (D- AZ) both noted their states are experiencing exceptional drought, impacting the Rio Grande Basin and Colorado River Basin and asked how Interior has allocated western drought funds. Boudreau stated that, to date, Interior has granted $3.3 billion for western water infrastructure programs, of which $1.3 billion has been allocated to 129 projects to address western drought impacts.

This week’s oversight hearing is a likely prelude for the incoming 118th Congress. House Republicans have stated that oversight hearings will be a top priority to investigate all aspects of how the Administration has obligated funding and its future plans to fund projects under the infrastructure law as well as the Inflation Reduction Act.

Reports and Regulation

Western Senators Send Letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack – The Senators, including Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), request that $20 billion contained in the Inflation Reduction Act for climate-smart conservation be directed for drought resiliency. The letter states the funds should, “address drought, including enhancing groundwater recharge, reducing salinity, improving irrigation efficiencies, reducing pumping, and utilizing organic practices.”

 

CAL FIRE Releases Updated Fire Hazard Severity Zone Map for Public Comment - Regulatory adoption process to update the existing map that captures Fire Hazard Severity Zones, which is a comprehensive map that ranks California’s State Responsibility Areas.  

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