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

November 20, 2020

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
May 14, 2021

White House Signals Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Transmittal to Congress

The Administration has announced that it will transmit the long anticipated Fiscal Year 2022 budget request to Congress on May 27.  Due to the Presidential Transition, the pandemic, and the development of annual spending priorities alongside the implementation of the American Rescue Plan, securing Senate confirmation of political appointee, and development of the American Jobs Act, finalization of the budget request was delayed.

 

The soon-to-be released request is notable since it will allow the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations to begin in earnest the review of federal spending programs with knowledge of the Administration’s priorities. The White House issued a “skinny” budget request in April seeking more than $1.5 trillion in discretionary spending (nonentitlement spending). The top line funding requests were notable for significant spending increases for the various federal agencies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) programs would benefit significantly after years of static funding levels. Based upon the April budget outline, USEPA would receive an increase of $2 billion (21% increase over current year level) that would target support climate and safe drinking water needs. Similarly, the Department of the Interior would secure a $2.4 billion increase to support climate mitigation, resilience, and other initiatives to address the deployment of clean energy technology.  Once the budget is received by Congress, the Committees on Appropriations will develop actual spending levels for the various federal agencies and departments with the goal of finalizing budgets by the start of FY 2022 on October 1, 2021.

 

House Republicans Introduce Clean Water Legislation 

This week, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) and Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Ranking Member David Rouzer (R-NC) introduced H.R. 3218, the Wastewater Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2021. H.R. 3218 would provide states and local communities with assistance to wastewater infrastructure needs, with an emphasis on addressing the needs of rural and small communities. Committee Republicans introduced this package as committee Democrats are readying H.R. 1915 to be marked up at the end of for the end of this month. 

 

The bill includes a provision to amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act with respect to permit terms to authorize States to issue National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, for certain discharges, to States and municipalities for up to 10 years in duration. Current law limits a NPDES permit to 5 years.

 

Select Provisions of the Wastewater Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2021:  

  • Requires the Administrator of the EPA to issue a report to Congress on the current and future workforce needs of public wastewater treatment utilities.

  • Reauthorizes the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund at $14 billion over 5 years. 

  • Authorizes $110 million (over 5 years) to expand eligibility for public wastewater utilities to assess and address future risks posed by manmade or natural disasters.  Not less than 15 percent is set aside to assist small and rural communities.  

  • Authorizes $150 million (over 5 years) for a new pilot program expanding eligibility for projects reclaim or recycle wastewater and stormwater. Not less than 15 percent is set aside to assist small and rural communities. 

  • Extends the current authorization and provides $1.125 billion (over 5 years) for grants to states for planning, design, and construction of sewer overflow and stormwater management projects for municipalities. Not less than 20 percent is set aside to assist small and rural communities and the cost share is adjusted to aid financially distressed communities.

 

U.S. Treasury Opens Access to State and Local Government COVID Assistance

The U.S. Department of Treasury has launched a portal to allow states and local governments access to secure  $350 billion in COVID-19 assistance.  Special districts are not eligible to receive direct assistance, but can request assistance local city and county officials to transfer awarded funds to help address pandemic response related expenditures and needs.

 

Of the $350 billion, states and the District of Columbia will receive $195.3 billion, counties receive $65.1 billion, and metropolitan cities receive $45.6 billion. The Treasury will release funds in two tranches, with the first half of the funding being provided in starting this month and the other half a year later. However, the Treasury makes an exception for “states that have experienced a net increase in the unemployment rate of more than 2 percentage points from February 2020 to the latest available data as of the date of certification will receive their full allocation of funds in a single payment; other states will receive funds in two equal tranches.”

 

The Department also released new guidance for eligible uses for the awarded assistance. Eligible uses for the funding include:

  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure

  • Support for public health expenditures, such as funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare, and public health and safety staff

  • Address negative economic impacts caused by public health emergency

  • Replace lost public sector revenue

  • Provide premium pay for essential workers

 

As the Treasury Department begins the process of distributing funding assistance to states and local governments, there is a renewed effort in Congress to have special districts be eligible to receive COVID-19 assistance. A group of lawmakers, led by Representative Salud Carbajal (D-CA), have sent a letter to Governors and State leaders to requesting that they allocate some amount of their awarded Covid financial relief assistance to special districts. Earlier this year, there was a legislative effort to have special districts be eligible to receive COVID-19 relief assistance, but it failed to be included in the American Rescue Act.

 

Senate Committee Considers USEPA and USDOI Nominees

This week, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to consider the nomination of Radhika Fox to be Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).  Currently she serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. Fox testified that if confirmed, she would work to "advance durable water solutions" and dedicate efforts to ensuring all communities have access to clean and safe water. She emphasized that she would prioritize collaboration, corporation, and communication with all who are impacted by Office of Water's regulatory and policy decisions. She noted her experience as CEO of the US Water Alliance, where she worked with communities across the country to develop consensus-based solutions, and her time at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, directing the policy and governmental affairs, where she gained insight on what it takes to comply with federal environmental and water quality regulations and managing water systems.

 

Republican committee members focused the majority of their questions on how Fox would handle the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule review and rewrite if confirmed.  Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) asked Fox if she believed the 2015 WOTUS rule was an overreach of governmental authority. Fox stated that she believes WOTUS is a foundational component of the work for the Office of Water because it establishes the foundation for how the Office develops future water quality decisions. She said that the Office, under the direction of USEPA Administrator Michael Regan, is currently reviewing the rule and assessing what is working and what is not working from an implementation standpoint. She stated that the goal is to develop a rule that can endure future Administration changes.

 

Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) questioned Fox about the WOTUS rule in the context of the arid West, asking how USEPA will consider the concerns of the arid western states when developing a new WOTUS rule. Fox said that they will use stakeholder engagement through listening sessions and regional roundtables to understand how implementation may be impacted based on differing ecosystems.

 

Fox also received questions focused on how she would ensure water access and affordability. Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) asked Fox what she would do to ensure wastewater and drinking water are safe and affordable for all. Fox listed three key actions she would take, including implementing the range of water financing programs at USEPA, as well as the programs recently developed by Congress, strengthening the states, tribes, and local governments' capacities to implement the financing programs to ensure affordability of water services is achievable at all scales, and addressing PFAS contamination and other emerging contaminants to ensure that all communities' water resources are clean

 

Next steps will be for the committee to vote on her nomination.  If the committee votes affirmatively, the nomination goes to the Senate floor for confirmation.  We anticipate a committee vote within the next few weeks. 

 

Also being considered by the committee were the nominations of Shannon Estenoz to be Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks of the Department of Interior, and Michal Freedhoff to be Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention of the USEPA.

 

Senator Padilla Sponsors  Wilderness Legislation

Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) has introduced S. 1459, the Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act, that increases protections for over 1 million acres of federal public lands in California. A map of the proposed areas are illustrated in a factsheet published by the office. The legislation packages together three California specific wilderness bills that were part of a larger House public lands package (H.R. 803) was passed earlier this year. Padilla’s legislation proposes to add nearly 600,000 acres of new wilderness areas in the northwest, southern and central coast regions of California.

 

The legislation, originally introduced in 2020 by then Senator Kamala Harris, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In a press release announcing the introduction, Padilla explained that it is critical to be “thoughtful stewards” of public lands to ensure the spaces can be enjoyed for future generations, be that “we must do so in a way that reverses racial and economic disparities in access to nature and parks.” The bill also includes the Administration’s 30x30 goal, by including provisions to promote of the conservation of 30% of California’s lands and waters by 2030.S.  includes the following measures:

 

  • H.R. 878, Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act - Huffman (D-CA)

  • H.R. 973, Central Coast Heritage Protection Act - Carbajal (D-CA)

  • H.R. 693, San Gabriel Mountains Foothills and Rivers Protection Act - Chu (D-CA)


Legislative Activity This Week

H.R. 2570, To amend the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to require certain disclosures relating to climate change, and for other purposes. – Reported out of Committee on Financial Services on a vote of 28-24.

 

New Legislation

H.R. 3132, To reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes. – Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV)

 

H.R. 3112, To amend the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Study and Facilities Act to authorize certain recycled water projects, and for other purpose. – Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA)

 

S. 1583, A bill to reauthorize the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, and for other purposes. – Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)

 

H.R. 2952 - To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to require a certain percentage of funds appropriated for revolving fund capitalization grants be used for green projects. – Rep. Nikema Williams (D-GA)

 

H.R. 3218, To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to reauthorize certain water pollution control programs, and for other purposes. – Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC)

H.R. 3228,

 

S. 1639, A bill to amend the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to reauthorize the energy efficiency and conservation block grant program. – Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

 

H.R. 3160, To amend the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 to establish a Working Waterfront Task Force and a working waterfronts grant program, and for other purposes. – Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME)

 

Reports and Regulation

Executive Order on the Establishment of the Climate Change Support Office - Supporting bilateral and multilateral engagement to advance the United States initiative to address the global climate crisis, led by the Department of State and in coordination with other executive departments and agencies.

 

The Climate Solution Actually Adding Millions of Tons of CO2 Into the Atmosphere (ProPublica) - "That decision (by the Air Resources Board) has generated tens of millions of carbon credits with dubious climate value, according to a new analysis by CarbonPlan, a San Francisco nonprofit that analyzes the scientific integrity of carbon removal efforts."

 

California’s Latest Drought in 4 Charts (PPIC) - “Reservoir conditions in the Sacramento watershed are critical not only for the region itself, but also for Bay Area and Southern California cities and San Joaquin Valley farms served by the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. Although we are only in year two of the current drought, water allocations from these projects have fallen precipitously—to 0% for the CVP and 5% for the SWP—on par with 2014, the third year of the past drought. This will spur more groundwater pumping, and cause groundwater levels to fall again.” 

 

Executive Order on Improving the Nation's Cybersecurity | The White House - Focus on modernizing cybersecurity defenses by protecting federal networks, improving information-sharing between the U.S. government and the private sector on cyber issues, and strengthening the United States’ ability to respond to incidents when they occur. 

 

Congress Next Week

Tuesday May 18, 2021

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Hearing to Consider Pending USDOI Nominees  

Wednesday May 19, 2021

Committee on Energy and Commerce – Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2022 DOE Budget

 

House Committee on Natural Resources – Republican committee members will host a virtual forum on the growing catastrophic drought situation across the American West.

 

Thursday May 20, 2021

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Hearing on Forest Management, Forest Products and Carbon

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