Senate Passes Bipartisan EPA Funding Package with Clean Water Priorities, But Next Steps Unclear

(November 6, 2019) – The US Senate overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan multi-bill Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) appropriations package last week, which included the Interior & Environment Appropriations measure to fund the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and key clean water programs. 

The packaged bill includes several top NACWA and public clean water sector priorities that the Association has worked with the Senate on for several months to ensure inclusion, including additional funding for the CWSRF and WIFIA programs along with full funding a new water workforce grants program.

The Senate’s package also addresses the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FY20 Funding. The bill boosts spending by $15.7 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs that many utilities leverage for watershed-based investments.  

After weeks of partisan wrangling over the potential inclusion of contentious policy riders in the package that had stalled the appropriations process, Senators passed the bipartisan package by a vote of 84-9, sending the chamber’s first FY20 appropriations package into the conference negotiation process with the House.

The House passed its version of the FY20 Interior & Environment Appropriations bill this summer, which also included several key NACWA priorities and wins.

While the Senate action marks a positive step in the overall FY20 appropriations process, the next steps towards reaching agreement with House on funding package that can pass both chambers and be signed into law by President Trump remain unclear.

House and Senate negotiators now have to reach a bicameral and bipartisan deal on specific top line funding levels (known as 302(b) allocations) for each of the 12 annual appropriations bills, agree on how to further address contentious policy riders moving forward, and how and if to include some of the other more contentious appropriations bills in a final package. 

With the current continuing resolution (CR) funding agreement set to expire November 21, Congress will likely need to pass another short-term CR before agreeing to any final FY20 appropriations package to fund EPA and other federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year.  If the hurdles to reaching a House/Senate FY20 package remain too high, it is also possible that Congress will end up passing a series of CRs (funding the government at FY19 levels and without money for any new programs) though the end of next year.  The politics of a presidential election year in 2020 are increasingly making this scenario more likely.   

NACWA will continue working with both the House and Senate to ensure the Association’s funding priorities are included in any final bill and urges all NACWA members to continue advocating with their respective Representatives and Senators on the importance of funding for clean water programs.  Please contact Jason Isakovic or Kristina Surfus, NACWA’s Legislative Directors, with any questions.