House Committee Passes Bipartisan CWSRF Legislation with Increased Funding, Regulatory Reform

October 30, 2019) – The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee held a markup Oct. 29 of an amended H.R. 1497, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019, and passed the legislation with strong bipartisan support.  NACWA provided a letter in support of the bill and issued a press release.

The legislation includes several key NACWA advocacy priorities, including reauthorizing and increasing funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), providing for public wastewater utility National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit terms of up to 10 years, requiring EPA to review the Agency’s position on affordability, and focusing new attention on improving the nation’s water workforce. 

NACWA worked closely with both Democrats and Republicans over recent months to inform the legislation’s development and the Association applauds the Committee’s vote to advance the bill to the House floor.

H.R. 1497 authorizes the largest increase ever (outside of the 2009 stimulus bill) for the CWSRF, providing stepwise increases to total $14 billion for the CWSRF over 5 years. This would be an increase of more than 50 percent over five years. The legislation codifies certain CWSRF parameters that Congress has included in recent funding bills, including directing (to the extent there are sufficient projects) at least 15 percent of each state’s capitalization grant to projects incorporating green infrastructure, water or energy efficiency or generation, or other environmentally innovative activities; and (also to the extent there are sufficient applications) directing each state to use at minimum 10 percent, but at maximum 30 percent, of its annual CWSRF capitalization grant to provide communities with additional subsidization such as grants or loan forgiveness.

Additionally, the bill includes a provision sponsored by Rep. Stanton (D-AZ) to allow states to reserve up to 1 percent of their capitalization grant to carry out workforce development activities. EPA is also directed to provide Congress with an assessment of current and future workforce needs of POTWs, and recommendations to support the water workforce.

The bill also reauthorizes federal Clean Water Act (CWA) Sec. 221 grants to municipalities for stormwater and sewer overflow controls at $225 million per year for five years. NACWA is anticipating that this grant program will receive funding for the first time in FY2020. Additionally, the bill authorizes higher funding levels for CWA Sec. 106 grants to states for their water pollution program administration; authorizes $110 million for CWA Sec. 122 watershed pilot project grants for wet weather control and resiliency; and authorizes $150 million for CWA Sec. 220 alternative water source pilot project grants.

In an important development, the legislation acknowledges the water sector’s concern with EPA’s current affordability guidance and its overreliance on Median Household Income (MHI) as the most important indicator. The legislation includes a directive to EPA to review existing affordability guidance— including the report prepared by NACWA and its water sector partners earlier this year—and sets a timeline for EPA to complete its review and identify needed revisions.

The package also includes targeted regulatory reforms to NPDES permitting. The package builds on a proposal sponsored by Rep. Garamendi (D-CA) - and supported by the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), NACWA, and a broad municipal coalition - to allow states the flexibility to issue to NPDES permits for public wastewater treatment facilities of up to 10 years in certain circumstances. These greater term lengths are envisioned as an option to help provide public utilities with greater permit certainty, reduce administrative backlogs and resources spent on permit renewals, and enable utilities to better align permits with construction timelines and innovative approaches.

While there are many positive elements of the bill, there are two areas in particular that were negotiated as part of the bipartisan agreement that will need additional attention as the bill moves forward in the legislative process. 

The first area of concern involves a change to administratively continued permits under the NPDES program. Rep. Garamendi initially proposed a clean extension of permits from 5 to 10 years for interested utilities.  However, the Committee added several guardrails and proposed a change to administratively continued permits, with an EPA ‘backstop’ approach whereby when a state does not issue renewed permit to a utility in a timely fashion, the renewal would be elevated to EPA to resolve. NACWA, CASA and other groups have significant concerns with this approach and will work to address these concerns over the coming months.

The second area of concern involves pathogens and blending.  Committee Democrats initially proposed requiring EPA to undertake a rulemaking to add pathogen limits to the national secondary treatment requirements, and later suggested a mandatory survey of POTWs on pathogens. NACWA worked hard to remove these concerning provisions, and the Committee – which made clear they needed some language on pathogens to move the bill – ultimately agreed to language that directs EPA to 1.) conduct a public/stakeholder input process on how best to gather information on the effectiveness of secondary treatment for pathogens and pathogen indicators, and then; 2.) to use the data it collects to determine if a reevaluation of secondary treatment is warranted. The bill would also pause any EPA rulemaking on blending until this data collection process is complete. 

NACWA is committed to addressing these two concerns as the bill moves over to the Senate.

NACWA thanks Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO), Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-AR), and the sponsors of key provisions for their leadership on this legislation. Reaching bipartisan Committee support for such a comprehensive funding and policy package is a major success and bipartisan achievement.

NACWA appreciates all of the Committee’s engagement with the Association to negotiate a bipartisan bill and welcomes continued discussions with the Committee and with their Senate counterparts to help advance and refine this bill as it moves forward, with a goal of enacting a comprehensive CWSRF package later this Congress.

NACWA also thanks CASA and the other municipal groups that helped advocate on the bill.  This was a true team effort and NACWA looks forward to continued work with these organizations to improve the legislation as it moves forward. 

Members with any questions about the bill and next steps can contact Kristina Surfus or Jason Isakovic, NACWA’s Legislative Directors.