Capitol Hill Plans Busy Week for Water Issues, Addresses Disaster Funding

(May 14, 2019) - The US House has a full schedule this week addressing water issues, including four hearings scheduled on Wednesday, May 15.

First, the House Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee has scheduled a markup of its Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) spending bill on Wednesday. Prior to the markup, the Subcommittee will release text of their proposed bill, which will show the House’s proposed funding for individual EPA programs. NACWA will closely review the bill to see how the Association’s many priorities will be supported by the bill’s language.  Analysis and outcomes will be reported to membership in the next Clean Water Current.

Also this Wednesday, the House Energy & Commerce Committee is holding a hearing entitled Protecting Americans at Risk of PFAS Contamination & Exposure. The Committee has jurisdiction over drinking water issues, and the hearing comes after the introduction of more than a half-dozen PFAS-related bills in the House and Senate, just in last week alone. NACWA will track the hearing closely and submit written testimony for the record.

Over in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee – which has jurisdiction over both the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act – is anticipated to conduct a hearing later this month. NACWA and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) met jointly with Committee staff from both parties regarding PFAS issues in recent days, and will continue working to help inform and shape the conversation as Congressional attention on PFAS advances.

A third item of note for Wednesday is a scheduled hearing on The Economic and Health Consequences of Climate Change, held by the powerful House Ways & Means Committee, which is in charge of tax and revenue issues. Concerned Members of Congress have been proposing that climate and resilience issues be addressed via infrastructure legislation, as well as proposing new revenue streams. NACWA will remain alert and engaged as these discussions continue.

Lastly, the House Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee has scheduled an oversight hearing on Wednesday to review 2018 Farm Bill Conservation Program implementation. This first hearing of the Conservation Subcommittee during this Congress will focus on the progress that the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is making to implement important policy changes and programmatic improvements signed into law via the 2018 Farm Bill.

NACWA strongly supported several key provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill. Since the bill was signed in December, Congress has kept an eye on implementation. In April, a bipartisan group of Agriculture Committee Senators submitted a letter to USDA recommending that the 2018 Farm Bill reforms and investments related to voluntary conservation be implemented through a USDA-wide National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI).  The House hearing will be an opportunity to hear from USDA on how implementation of the legislation is proceeding.

Congress will also be busy this week working to resolve supplemental disaster relief spending related to the numerous federal hurricane, wildfire, and earthquake disasters in the past few years. On Friday, May 10, the House passed a $19 Billion supplemental disaster relief package on a 257-150 vote, which would provide funding to communities impacted by Hurricanes Florence, Michael, Harvey, Irma and Maria; Typhoon Yutu; and the 2018 wildfires and earthquakes.

The House disaster package includes a total of approximately $850 Million in supplemental capitalization grants to the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) in impacted states. However, the House bill is opposed by President Trump and many Republicans, who believe the portion provided to Puerto Rico to rebuild from 2017 Hurricane Maria should be lower.

Similar issues have stymied a disaster aid agreement the Senate, and it remains unclear how Congress will proceed. Concerns also remain with the amount of supplemental funding to be provided, and with how to expedite the use of previously approved funding – such as through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program – which the federal government has been slow to disburse into communities in need.

Contact Kristina Surfus or Jason Isakovic, NACWA Legislative Directors, for information on any of these Congressional issues.