ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
Congress Works to Wrap Before Holidays; Water & Funding Negotiations Continue
Congress returned to Washington after Thanksgiving recess to wrap up outstanding legislative issues and prepare for the incoming 115th Congress. Legislators have one must-do item before they can recess for the year: pass legislation to continue funding the government in 2017. Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) in September which funds the government through December 9. It appears likely that another CR deal, rather than an “omnibus” fiscal year 2017 (FY17) appropriations bill, will be passed this week extending funding into March or May, which would allow the new Congress to take up spending legislation early next year.
Congress is also still negotiating how to provide aid to Flint, MI to address the city’s drinking water crisis. Congressional leadership agreed in the Fall to provide funding for Flint before the end of the year, either in a final Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) or in another legislative vehicle such as FY17 funding. Congressional leadership has continued negotiating WRDA and as of this writing, public release of a reconciled WRDA package seems imminent. WRDA was intensely negotiated by key congressional staff and leadership over Thanksgiving. NACWA has learned from key sources on Capitol Hill in recent days that Congress is expected to release a final WRDA package that is a “clean” bill – meaning it will focus on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizations and policies, and not include key Clean Water Act (CWA) changes, which NACWA supported in the Senate version of the bill. It appears the House is insisting on a narrower bill despite the Senate pushing hard to include the CWA reforms in the final package – an effort supported by the Association, many individual member agencies, and aligned associations in DC.
Whether and how to include Flint aid in WRDA or other legislation is reportedly the final point of debate holding up the WRDA package. NACWA will provide membership with an update on WRDA as soon as the final bill is available. If NACWA is, as seems likely, disappointed with the final package, it does feel well-positioned to advance these priorities in the next Congress as part of its commitment to focus on infrastructure, affordability concerns and regulatory streamlining efforts; which were aided by the record of bipartisan support for key CWA reforms by the Senate this year.
In any event, the Association will keep members informed as information becomes known. The same goes for other issues still being negotiated in Congress, including energy reform and drought legislation; both of interest to NACWA members. In both cases, agreement still appears out of reach. However, key members of Congress continued trying to reconcile both issues this past week, so NACWA will continue monitoring final negotiations.
Other Congressional activity included leadership elections by the Senate and House for the 115th Congress. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was re-elected as House Minority Leader, surviving a challenge by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) for the post. With House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also re-elected, the only top post to change in the 115th Congress will be Senate Minority Leader; where Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will replace retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV). Regarding clean water committees of jurisdiction, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will again be led by Chairman Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member DeFazio (D-OR), while the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will have new leadership in Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE), who will replace term-limited Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and retiring Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (D-CA).
During the water sector’s regular meeting with Office of Water (OW) leadership on November 22, Mike Shapiro, Deputy Assistant Administrator, outlined what OW staff are doing to prepare for the change in administration. During the discussion, Shapiro – the senior OW career staffer leading the transition efforts – provided an overview of what preparations had already been made, and how the process would proceed once the Trump Administration’s transition ‘landing team’ arrived at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Myron Ebell, Director of the Washington, DC-based libertarian think tank, the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is leading the transition at EPA for the Trump Administration. Ebell made his first appearance at the Agency on November 22. Ebell and the rest of his team, which is still being assembled, will be working on site at EPA between now and Inauguration Day to get up to speed on the Agency’s ongoing activities—as well as required or court-mandated actions that need to stay on schedule during the transition—and to ensure they are prepared to advance a slate of incoming administration appointees.
Members of the transition team may ultimately become appointees at the Agency, and Ebell’s name has already been mentioned as a potential EPA Administrator. Other top contenders apparently include Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and former head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Kathleen Hartnett White. While NACWA expects to know who will be nominated for EPA Administrator soon, the remaining appointments at EPA may take some time. During the 2008-2009 transition, most Assistant Administrators and Regional Administrators were nominated, and arrived at their posts in the June-December timeframe following Inauguration. It is unclear at this time whether the incoming Administrator will appoint these officials in a more expeditious time frame or not. Until then, senior career staff will likely be leading the vacant offices in an ‘acting’ capacity. NACWA is working to set up a meeting with the EPA transition team and will keep the membership apprised of any developments.
In the wake of the lead crisis in Flint, MI, EPA has worked over the past year to develop what it calls a “national call to action,” to reinvigorate efforts to ensure all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water. EPA released its Drinking Water Action Plan on November 30, outlining six priority areas where the Agency believes there is “significant opportunity for leadership from states and other partners,” with each priority area containing a list of proposed actions.
Some of the actions are already underway, but EPA notes that most will require additional resources and further stakeholder engagement to initiate and complete. To inform development of the Action Plan, EPA engaged a range of stakeholders, including state and tribal officials, drinking water utilities, and non-governmental organizations. NACWA was not directly involved in the development of the Action Plan. Most parts of the Action Plan impact drinking water utilities only; these parts include working to address unregulated contaminants, reducing risk through the lead and copper rule and advancing next generation oversight for the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, the Plan’s Priority Area 1 and Priority Area 3 contain elements that could directly impact clean water agencies.
Under Priority Area 1, many of the proposed actions, which focus on enhancing utility capability and promoting equity, could provide value to the clean water community. For example, EPA is proposing to:
• Develop a national initiative to promote regional water utility partnerships
Priority Area 3 – labeled, “Strengthen Source Water Protection and Resilience of Drinking Water Supplies” – highlights nutrient-related impacts and uncontrolled urban stormwater as major concerns for source water protection, and contains several proposed actions that could have regulatory consequences under the Clean Water Act (CWA) including:
• Using new tools to develop water quality criteria for drinking water contaminants for which there are no CWA standards
NACWA will continue to track these issues as EPA works to roll out the Action Plan, as well as any changes to the Plan that may be implemented by the incoming Trump Administration.
The NACWA Energy Workgroup held a web meeting on December 1 to discuss advocacy opportunities in the next Administration. Lauren Fillmore, Senior Program Director at the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation (WE&RF), gave a presentation on recent research done by WE&RF and how the outcome of this research could be addressed by NACWA. Issues discussed include electrical rate structures that can penalize wastewater utilities for generating their own energy and the potential for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to be decreased or eliminated, essentially reducing the incentive for utilities to produce fuel from biogas. Partnership opportunities also exist with natural gas utilities, which have shown increased interest in purchasing renewable natural gas from wastewater utilities.
NACWA participated in the second annual New Jersey Water Works Conference on December 2 and announced commitments to help address municipal clean water issues both within New Jersey and nationally. The conference brought together more than 300 stakeholders to discuss innovative ways to improve New Jersey’s water infrastructure. Speakers included both local and national experts on water infrastructure, and a number of NACWA members, including representatives from the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority and the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, who played lead roles in organizing the meeting.
NACWA served as a sponsor of the event and announced two commitments as part of the conference’s “Call to Action” plan: 1) work on developing a federal affordability/low income assistance program for clean water services in the new Congress, and 2) work on an Environmental Justice & Community Service Compendium to help clean water utilities make infrastructure investments that benefit all segments of their communities, especially marginalized populations. NACWA looks forward to advancing these initiatives on behalf of all its members.
In the face of rising frequency and severity of natural disasters, utilities must utilize a variety of options to not only respond to, but plan for, these events. On December 7, EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center and EPA’s Water Security Division will host a webinar to educate participants about the tools and financing available to enhance resiliency and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. In addition to a panel of experts from EPA and the private sector, water and wastewater utilities will be sharing their stories about planning against investing in resilient infrastructure. Registration for the webinar is free. NACWA encourages those interested to sign up and learn more about resiliency planning before disaster strikes.
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