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February 2016 LU
Legislative and Regulatory Policy Committee
From: National Office
Date: February 19, 2016
This edition of NACWA’s Legislative Update, current through February 19, 2016, provides information on the activities of the 114th Congress of interest to the nation’s public clean water agencies. For more detailed information regarding NACWA legislative activities, click on the web links in selected news items or visit NACWA’s website. Please contact NACWA’s Patricia Sinicropi or Kristina Surfus with any questions or information on the Update topics.
Legislative Perspectives – February 2016
So, remember that glow we all shared in December over the remarkably productive finish of the first session of the 114th Congress and the hope that this bestowed for a productive second session? Well…forget it all…Gridlock is officially back in Washington, with a battle royale brewing in Congress over a Supreme Court vacancy and a drinking water crisis in Flint, MI that have stopped all legislative business in its tracks. So much for fleeting notions of bipartisanship…
In January, the second Congressional session began on a promising note as the Senate undertook debate on a bipartisan, comprehensive energy bill which actually contained some small but important water-related provisions that could be helpful for NACWA members. We were all hopeful that Congress could potentially enact the first comprehensive energy bill in nearly a decade with broad support from both Democrats and Republicans, and that this spirit of bipartisanship would continue through upcoming reauthorization efforts on water resources legislation.
Then the drinking water crisis in Flint exploded on the front pages and Democrats seized the opportunity that the energy legislation presented to seek relief for Flint’s drinking water customers, filibustering further progress on the bill until a Flint relief package could be negotiated. The outcome of this impasse is still unclear, but the Senate will work to resolve differences and move the energy package forward – possibly with assistance for Flint – when it returns from recess next week.
Then an unexpected Supreme Court vacancy arose with the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia and the announcement by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he wants to hold open the vacancy until the next President is elected. This approach would avoid a potentially politically costly debate among his Republican caucus, but also sets himself - and the rest of his hoped for legislative agenda - on a collision course with President Obama and Senate Democrats.
Now all eyes are on how this ride will unfold and what, if any, accommodation will be made with respect to Flint and the Supreme Court vacancy so that Congress can resume legislating through at least the Spring. Given the Presidential campaign, the associated politics, and a short legislative calendar, 2016 was already expected to be a difficult year in which to legislate. Developments over the past few weeks have not made things any easier. However, the conventional wisdom argues that Majority Leader McConnell's overall strategy for maintaining a Republican majority is proving that he would get Congress working again, and following regular order on key legislative items is key to this strategy. The latest developments may jeopardize this and it's unclear whether he will be able to get things back on track.
However, one thing the Flint drinking water crisis has done is place water issues squarely on the national legislative agenda. As detailed further below, there have been host of bills either introduced or discussed in preliminary form in the past few weeks dealing with a wide range of water issues, including infrastructure investment, low income rate assistance programs to address affordability concerns, technology and innovation, drought and resilience, and water reuse and recycling. NACWA has been at the center of discussions regarding all these proposals, and will continue to be engaged going forward as Congress considers them. We will also be working hard to help connect the dots between all these bills and help educate Congress and other policy makers about why such a concerted legislative focus on broad water issues is long overdue.
With the Administration’s recent FY17 budget request proposing steep cuts to infrastructure investment for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, the stakes couldn’t be higher for a much anticipated debate on the state of the nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure. And NACWA intends to be in the middle of this debate, ensuring the interests of our members and the municipal clean water community at large are represented. So stay tuned - things are getting very interesting in our Nation’s Capital!
– Pat Sinicropi, Senior Director of Legislative Affairs (Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.)
Administration’s Budget Signals Shift In Water Investment Priorities
The Obama Administration released its proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget on February 9 signaling a dramatic shift in water investment priorities. While the Administration is touting a proposed $300 million investment in water innovation and water supply, it is also significantly slashing funding to EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) by over $414 million. This is a surprising and disappointing request in a final budget from an Administration that is trying to make clean water a centerpiece of its legacy, especially in light of the current water crisis playing out in Flint, Michigan.
The proposed cut to the CWSRF pays for other Administration priorities elsewhere in the Administration’s EPA budget, including an increase of $158 million for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program and $240 million more for enforcement efforts. Even in the wake of Flint, the proposed increase to the DWSRF is less than what the Administration proposed last year. While NACWA supports an increase for the DWSRF, there also must be an increase in the CWSRF – especially given EPA’s own recent clean water needs survey showing a $270 billion need for clean water investment. Now is the time to be increasing the federal investment in water infrastructure, not cutting investment. Additional details on the budget request are available in Advocacy Alert 16-03.
The Administration’s budget request also contains funding for a $300 million initiative to invest in water innovation technology focused on dealing almost exclusively with water supply challenges caused by western drought. Monies would fund such things as technology development to increase water and energy efficiency measures at water treatment plants. There is a particular focus on reducing the cost and energy intensity of desalination technology; increasing water conservation efforts; developing new drought assessments; and promoting basic water supply research.
While NACWA is supportive of investing in water innovation and research, increasing funding for these efforts while also dramatically cutting funds for the federal government’s primary water infrastructure investment programs -- especially in light of the situation in Flint – is simply the wrong thing to do. Members of Congress from both political parties have already denounced the Administration’s proposed cuts to the SRF, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has introduced a bill that would triple investments in both the CWSRF and DWSRF.
Budget negotiations will now shift to Capitol Hill, where NACWA will strongly advocate against the Administration’s proposed SRF cuts.
Bipartisan Water Funding Bill Introduced; Seeks Key Low-Income Study
On February 4, Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Richard Hanna (R-NY), and John Duncan (R-TN) introduced H.R. 4468, The Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act. The bipartisan proposal will provide deficit-neutral revenue to help states replace and repair critical clean and drinking water facilities. The bill also requests – for the first time in federal legislation and with NACWA and the Water Infrastructure Network’s urging – a serious analysis of the affordability challenges facing low income populations with regard to drinking water and clean water services, including what role the federal government can play in helping to incentivize pricing that reflects the true value of water. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
New House Bill Highlights Congressional Focus On Low Income Rate Assistance
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) introduced legislation, H.R. 4542, on February 11 establishing a Low Income Sewer & Water Assistance Program (LISWAP) that would provide financial help to low income homes for water and sewer bills. NACWA is strongly supportive of the legislative proposal, which would require EPA to establish a grant program for at least 10 communities to assist low income households in paying for water and sewer service. The proposal would also require the Agency to submit a report to Congress within one year on the effectiveness of these low-income assistance programs. The bill has six cosponsors from Ohio and Michigan.
The press release announcing the legislation highlights the significant support for the bill, including from NACWA Member Agency the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current. As with the water trust fund introduced earlier in the month that included a study on low income assistance programs (see story above), this bill from Rep. Fudge demonstrates the growing interest in Congress in addressing the challenges faced by low income households in affording water and sewer rates.
Plan Now To Be Part Of Water Week 2016
Opportunities abound to showcase your organization’s commitment to clean water during Water Week 2016, April 10 – 16. Designated as a week for the water sector to work together to highlight critical water issues, utilities across the country are invited to post their logo on the Water Week website; engage via social media; host an event at home – or join utilities nationwide at the National Water Policy Forum, Fly-In & Expo, April 11-13, the anchor event of the week.
Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report and the former political director at ABC News, will kick off the National Water Policy Forum & Fly-In as our keynote speaker. Over the past 14 years, she has built a reputation as an accurate, objective, and insightful analyst with unparalleled access to campaign insiders and decision-makers. Her analysis has earned her numerous accolades. Her remarks on the electoral process, congressional culture, the Washington political scene, and the issues important to the water sector are sure to be both timely and compelling.
Water Week 2016, presented by NACWA, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and the WateReuse Association, will feature distinguished speakers, conference sessions, Capitol Hill visits, and regulatory roundtables. It’s not too early make plans to attend. Hotel reservations are open at the Westin Washington DC City Center – and Forum registration will be available on the Water Week website soon. Don’t miss this opportunity to add your voice to those of your colleagues in advancing both local and national water priorities.
Senate Drought Bill Introduced; Funding Announced
On February 10, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced an updated California Drought Relief Act. The bill includes provisions addressing long-term western water supply needs, including water recycling, and references the study of water recycling potential that NACWA and partner organizations carried out last year. NACWA forwarded an Advocacy Alert to its membership, providing additional details. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
Dispute Over Flint Funding Stalls Energy Bill
Failure to reach an agreement on providing federal funding for Flint has brought the Senate energy bill to a standstill. Further progress on this bill will be contingent on reaching a compromise on Flint, and the Senate will revisit this issue at the end of February when it returns from a recess. However, as outlined below, there are number of elements of the bill that NACWA strong supports.
NACWA Supports Energy-Water Nexus Provisions
The Association sent a letter to Capitol Hill on January 27 supporting two sections in S. 2012 , The Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, that will advance innovation in the clean water sector. NACWA voiced support for Section 4101, which establishes an Interagency Coordinating Committee to identify and coordinate all activities across federal agencies related to the nexus of energy and water. The Association also strongly supports Section 4102 of the bill which establishes a Smart Energy & Water Efficiency Pilot Program. This Program would provide competitive grants to eligible entities – including drinking water and clean water utilities – implementing unique and advanced technology-based projects that increase the energy efficiency of water, wastewater, and water reuse systems. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
Senate Amendment Seeks Conservation Tax Exclusions, Green Infrastructure Subsidies
Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has filed an amendment pdf button to the Senate energy bill that would change the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to expand tax exclusions for financial subsidies issued by utilities to homeowners for water conservation measures and installation of green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff. There has been growing concern about whether these types of subsidy programs – along with programs to address inflow and infiltration in private laterals – must be reported by homeowners to the IRS as income, thus potentially dampening the willingness of homeowners to participate. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
Senate WRDA Hearing Raises Infrastructure Investment Concerns
The Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works Committee held a hearing February 10 to discuss development of a new Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). WRDA authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work including flood control, navigation, and environmental restoration and protection. As anticipated, the developments in Flint, Michigan steered the WRDA discussion toward water infrastructure. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) expressed interest in working on a Senate companion bill to H.R. 4468, the Water Infrastructure Trust Fund Act introduced by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and that he would like to include the Trust Fund proposal in WRDA. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
Association Urges Support For Clean Water Compliance & Affordability Act
NACWA sent letters of support January 12 to House pdf button and Senate pdf button sponsors of the Clean Water Compliance & Affordability Act. The legislation, if enacted, would require EPA to establish a pilot program under its Integrated Planning Initiative to work with fifteen communities across the country to develop and implement Integrated Planning programs. The bipartisan legislation would also authorize EPA and states to extend the term of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit up to twenty-five years for pilot communities. Additionally, the legislation would require EPA to report to Congress at the end of five years on the effectiveness of this approach to help communities control compliance costs under the Clean Water Act. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
House Committee Holds Roundtable On WRDA 2016
On February 2, Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH) of the House Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee led a roundtable policy discussion regarding stakeholder priorities for the WRDA, which was attended by NACWA staff. WRDA authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work including flood control, navigation, and environmental restoration and protection. NACWA is interested in exploring opportunities to use this year’s planned WRDA bill to ensure additional coordination between the Army Corps and local governments on flood control projects that could also benefit clean water utilities in meeting the stormwater management obligations. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
Transportation Bill Includes Language On Stormwater Mitigation
The comprehensive transportation package passed by Congress in December included language that supports additional consideration for reducing and mitigating the impacts of stormwater runoff from surface transportation projects. The language, added to sections 134 pdf button and 135 pdf button of the existing transportation statute, does not create any new regulatory requirements but instead encourages transportation officials to explore opportunities to increase the resiliency of transportation systems while also minimizing impacts from stormwater runoff when engaging in transportation planning. This includes projects in metropolitan areas as well as more rural areas. Read the full story from the Clean Water Current.
The following is a list of upcoming Congressional hearings on issues that NACWA is tracking and that may be of interest to NACWA members. Many hearings can be viewed via live stream over the internet. Visit the relevant Congressional committee webpage for additional information.
February 23 – Senate Energy & Natural Resource Committee – Hearing to examine the Department of Interior’s budget request for FY 2017, 10:00 AM, 366 Dirksen
February 24 - House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee - A Review of United States Army Corps of Engineers Reports to Congress on Future Water Resources Development and Chief’s Reports, 10:00 AM, 2167 Rayburn
February 24 – House Committee on Appropriations, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies – Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service Budget Hearing, 10:15 AM, 2362-A Rayburn
February 26 – House Committee on Appropriations, Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies – Army Corps of Engineers Budget Hearing, 9:30 AM, 2359 Rayburn