ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
Congress Completes Water, Spending Bills to Wrap Up 114th Session
Congress wrapped up its work for the year the week of December 5th, agreeing to fund the federal government through April 2017 and passing a revised version of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). While the final WRDA package does not include many of the Clean Water Act (CWA) policy reforms from an earlier Senate version that NACWA and its members had supported, it does contain some positive developments for the municipal clean water community and will set the stage for NACWA to help advance key CWA policy changes early next year.
In the early hours of December 10, the Senate voted 78-21 to pass 2016 WRDA legislation. The final bill, renamed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for our Nation Act (WIIN), was passed by the House of Representatives on December 8 with a 360-61 vote, and has been signed by President Obama. WIIN's passage came just a few hours after the Senate voted to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through April 28. The CR essentially maintains Fiscal Year 2017 federal spending at Fiscal Year 2016 levels through April, postponing major appropriations decision-making until the new Congress and Administration are in place. These two pieces of legislation were the final major acts of the 114th Congress.
WIIN passage -- like the CR's passage -- came after a tumultuous few weeks of post-election congressional negotiations. WIIN and the CR were delayed over several issues, including an interest in having a "Buy American" provision for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) made permanent, a commitment from coal state Senators to secure benefits for retired miners, and the eleventh-hour addition of a California drought package to WIIN. The drought package, negotiated between Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. McCarthy (R-CA), includes provisions of interest to many NACWA members, but faced congressional opposition due to Endangered Species Act concerns – most notably from Sen. Boxer (D-CA), the retiring Ranking Member of the Environment & Public Works Committee. Long-term water management battles in the Georgia/Alabama/Florida region were another point of contention in the bill.
Unfortunately, the final WIIN Act does not contain key Clean Water Act provisions which the Association and many members advocated for this year, though we anticipate Congress will likely revisit these policy questions in the new 115th Congress. The bill does provide, however, important funding for water infrastructure, ecosystem restoration, reuse and desalination. Its passage also sets a helpful precedent for addressing clean and safe water issues through WRDA legislation. Additionally, NACWA has received strong signals from Congress that there is interest in addressing CWA issues next year, either through stand-alone bills or a more comprehensive infrastructure policy package. This will be a central focus of NACWA’s advocacy moving forward.
NACWA thanks all of its members who actively worked to pass a WRDA bill this year – advancing this legislation is an important advocacy accomplishment. Below is a brief list of key elements in the final WIIN package:
NACWA, DC Water Help Advance Nation’s First Wipes Legislation
The Council of the District of Columbia unanimously approved the Nonwoven Disposable Products Act of 2016 earlier this month, the first local legislation in the U.S. to address the problems caused by flushable and non-flushable wipes. The legislation requires the District’s Department of Energy & the Environment (DOEE) to issue rules, in consultation with NACWA Member Agency, District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC Water), to establish “flushability” standards for flushable wipes and labeling requirements for non-flushable wipes. The definition of “flushable” used in the legislation is based on the international water industry position statement on wipes, which has been endorsed by more than 300 organizations in 23 countries, including NACWA and many of its member agencies.
NACWA Engages with New Administration and Congress
A tumultuous election season came to a close with the election of Donald Trump as the next President and Republicans maintaining majorities in both the House and the Senate. While Republican control of the Executive and Legislative branches could bring some sweeping changes to the political landscape in Washington, it could also provide some important opportunities to advance key NACWA advocacy priorities – with infrastructure investment likely to top the list.
On December 12, NACWA submitted a transition letter to President-elect Trump outlining a number of key clean water issues and recommendations for the new Administration. Among the top priorities that NACWA highlighted in the letter were increasing funding for clean water infrastructure, addressing affordability and low income challenges, advancing responsible regulatory reform, and promoting water sector innovation. NACWA has also met with members of President-elect Trump’s transition team to discuss these ideas and recommendations in more detail. Additional information on the transition letter, along with NACWA’s 2017 political outlook, is available in Advocacy Alert 16-17.
During his election night acceptance speech, President-elect Trump referred to the need for investment in the nation’s infrastructure; it was the only major policy initiative mentioned at the time. This follows multiple commitments Mr. Trump made on the campaign trail about the need for a “new national infrastructure program,” and is in line with a letter NACWA sent to the Trump campaign in August declaring the importance of water infrastructure investments. Although the specifics of such a program are still unclear, infrastructure is generally seen as a bipartisan issue that Trump could work on with both Republicans and Democrats early in his Administration.
NACWA is engaging with both the Trump transition team as well as returning and new Members of Congress to ensure that any infrastructure program includes a significant focus on clean water, and that any investment and/or tax reform legislation preserves the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. NACWA will also continue its outreach to both parties in Congress during the transition period to advance Association priorities around affordability, funding, integrated planning, and a smarter approach to wet weather regulations. Despite both chambers being under Republican control, Democrats will continue to have a sizable presence in the Senate that will necessitate compromise on key environmental issues.
NACWA Discusses Transition with Board, Membership
NACWA’s Board of Directors and committee leaders met for a Strategic Leadership Retreat in Alexandria, VA in November to discuss how the election will impact NACWA’s existing strategic priorities and what actions the Association should take in 2017 to advance its agenda. NACWA also hosted a December 5 conference call with the Association’s State & Regional Exchange Network to share thoughts on the ramifications of recent elections.
NACWA is planning a webinar in mid-January to discuss the Legislative Outlook for the year – stay tuned for upcoming NACWA member communications with more information.
Funding & Finance
EPA Establishes Application Guidelines and Fees for WIFIA Financing
EPA recently published an interim final rule on application guidelines for its new credit assistance program that was authorized by the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovations Act (WIFIA), which Congress created in the 2014 Water Resources Development Act. Simultaneously, EPA issued a proposed rule for charging fees associated with processing WIFIA applications to receive financing under the WIFIA program. The deadline for commenting on both rules is February 17, 2017.
Congress appropriated funding for the WIFIA program in the recently-passed Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) Continuing Resolution, which funds the federal government through April, as part of an emergency aid package to help the City of Flint, MI replace lead service lines in its drinking water system. NACWA expects EPA to issue a notice of funding availability once the FY17 funding becomes available.
Together, the Interim Final Rule and the Proposed Rule set out eligibility criteria, a two-step application process, and the pertinent fees which EPA intends to use on applications for direct and guaranteed financing under the WIFIA program. In July, NACWA and other water associations submitted comments to EPA regarding its solicitation for public input as the Agency developed these guidelines. An important focus of the comments was on the fees that EPA plans to charge applicants. The proposed rule outlines five separate fees that EPA plans to charge, three of which are mandatory. The mandatory fees include: an initial application charge of $100,000 ($25,000 for small projects) for applications selected to proceed to full credit financing; a credit processing fee, the amount of which will depend on the time and resources required to process WIFIA applications; and an annual servicing fee of between $12,000 to $15,000.
EPA agreed with NACWA’s comments to allow the initial application fee to be credited against the full credit processing fee. And while EPA did not accept NACWA’s recommendation to allow applicants to finance these fees, Congress—in recently enacted WRDA legislation—amended the WIFIA statute to require EPA to finance these fees upon request of an applicant. An interested applicant will be required to submit an initial letter of interest for WIFIA financing and, if selected, will then be required to submit a full application, at which point a non-refundable application fee will be charged. Applicants that are not selected to proceed to the full application stage will not be required to pay a fee.
WRDA Bill Includes Support for Water Reuse
OCSD Instrumental in Law Aimed at Garnering Support for Water Reuse
As the California drought enters its sixth year, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed Assembly Bill (AB) 2022, which will allow Californians to conveniently sample recycled water as part of an effort to garner public support for water reuse. The bill has been supported by the Orange County Water District (OCWD), NACWA Member Agency the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) and the WaterReuse Association.
OCWD and OCSD have partnered for over 20 years to plan, design, build and operate one of the world’s most advanced water reuse facilities, the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS). AB 2022 will take effect in January 2017 and will allow the bottling of advanced purified drinking water to support educational outreach efforts. The bottled water will be used as a means to further educate audiences about the cutting-edge technology that is being used to purify reused water to near-distilled water quality in their community. Both districts are gearing up to make this happen.
“We are pleased that the Governor has signed this important piece of legislation into law,” said Orange County Sanitation District Board Chair John Nielsen. “Until now, only those fortunate to tour the Groundwater Replenishment System facilities were able to sample the purified water. Now, this legislation allows the bottling of small amounts of advanced purified water, which will help to teach the importance of water reuse and the technology used to recycle the water.”
NACWA applauds OCSD for embodying the Utility of the Future concept and utilizing innovative means to enhance water supply security and availability.
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