Congress Closes Out Year with Key Clean Water Legislative Wins

(December 18, 2019) – Before leaving Washington at week’s end for the holidays and the year, Congress is expected to pass a final Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) omnibus appropriations package that will fund the federal government at increased spending levels for the remainder of the fiscal year and includes several key NACWA and clean water sector priorities.  The bill also includes, for the first time, appropriated funding for a clean water grants program to address infrastructure investment needs.

Over the past year, NACWA has been working closely with House and Senate appropriators, as well as key Members of Congress and their staffs, to ensure the inclusion of several important clean water priorities and provisions in the FY20 Interior & Environment bill, which funds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and core clean water programs.

After months of wrangling over contentious policy riders and passing short-term continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government operational at current spending levels, House and Senate negotiators this week reached a final FY20 agreement that will ensure the federal government is funded through September 30, 2020.   

Among the several key NACWA and public clean water sector priorities and wins included in the bill are:

  • $9.06 billion in overall funding for the EPA, $208 million more than current levels and $2.83 billion more than the President’s budget request;
  • $1.639 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), down $56 million over current levels but still in line with significant increases enacted over the previous fiscal years;
  • New funding for two key programs NACWA worked to secure authorization for in passage of last year’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) including:
    • $28 million in Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Control Grants; and
    • $1 million for the Water Workforce Infrastructure and Utility Development Grants
  • $60 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), a slight decrease over current levels but with inclusion of $5 million for implementation of the new SRF WIN Act created by Congress in last WRDA;
  • Report language under EPA’s Environmental Programs and Management account to help ensure funding is utilized for the agency’s ongoing and further Integrated Planning activities; and
  • $510 million for EPA’s Geographic Watershed Programs, providing a significant increase of $53 million above current levels for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), Chesapeake Bay Program, Long Island Sound Program, and Gulf of Mexico Program.

While the small reduction in the CWSRF from FY19 numbers is disappointing, Congress more than made up for this with the new $28 million appropriation for the CSO grants program and the additional $53 million for the Geographic Watershed Programs. So overall, Congress has actually appropriated more money to key NACWA funding priorities in FY20 than it did in FY2019. 

The inclusion of $28 million for the CSO grants program is especially significant.  This program has been on the books for over 20 years but has never been funded before.  By including this money in a broad bipartisan fashion, Congress is signaling its recognition that federal grant money – and not just loans through the SRF and WIFIA programs – must play a role in addressing national clean water infrastructure needs.  Inclusion of this grant funding also sets the stage to push for even greater appropriations in future years. 

Given ongoing Congressional budgetary constraints and strong policy divisions that have delayed the appropriations process for several months, NACWA applauds Congress for its work on coming together to produce this final sending package that provides important funding for programs essential to the clean water sector. 

In another positive clean water development, after passing the House last week, this week the Senate passed the final compromised FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which excluded problematic PFAS provisions that were included in early versions of the House bill.  This is an important legislative achievement given the unintended consequences the original House PFAS provisions would have had on public clean water utilities.

However, NACWA recognizes the importance of addressing PFAS to advance protection of public health and the environment and looks forward to working with Congress further next year to ensure it does so through risk-based, scientifically sound policy.

Later this week, President Trump is expected to sign into law both the appropriations package and the NDAA and conclude the 2019 legislative year in Washington.

NACWA thanks its member utilities for all of their time and efforts this year in helping ensure the public clean water sector’s voice was loudly heard and these legislative achievements were possible.

Please contact Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus, NACWA’s Legislative Directors, with any questions or to discuss further.