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Election Results Provide Opportunities, Challenges for Clean Water Sector

Nov 12, 2020

(November 12, 2020) – After a long and hard-fought election season, current vote counts indicate Joe Biden has been elected the 46th President of the United States. While legal challenges to the election continue in certain states, Biden’s likely victory will usher in a major political shift in the White House while the majorities controlling Congress likely remain unchanged. Democrats retained control of the US House of Representatives, and Republicans are favored to retain control of the US Senate after the Georgia Senate races are decided in a January 5 runoff election.

This divided control of Congress will make it difficult for major legislation to advance – compromise will be required for Democrats in the House of Representatives and White House to advance their priorities through the Republican Senate. Yet, with the growing attention to water infrastructure investment needs in Congress and heightened concern regarding clean water challenges, NACWA is optimistic that these circumstances may lead to needed investment and sound approaches to addressing pressing clean water challenges in the next Congress.

What do the Elections Mean for the Public Clean Water Sector?

Heading into next year, NACWA’s top priorities remain increasing federal investment in clean water infrastructure, securing funds for the water sector in any new COVID-19 relief legislation, addressing affordability challenges, and advancing sound science-based solutions to clean water issues. The split control in Congress means no one party gets to unilaterally advance its goals and that a commonsense approach to clean water issues will be necessary. At the same time, a Biden EPA will likely mean increased regulatory and enforcement pressures for the public clean water sector.

President-elect Biden has long championed heavily investing in our nation’s aging infrastructure, including water, and made the issue one of his key campaign platforms. House Democratic leadership is likewise expected to push forward with proposals for robust infrastructure funding, along the lines of their comprehensive infrastructure investment proposal which includes massive increases in clean water.

Senate Republican leadership has typically been less supportive of a comprehensive infrastructure investment bill due in large part to the associated costs, but several Republicans in the Senate have begun to publicly and privately indicate a desire to provide much-needed investment for critical national infrastructure.

With Democrats having led the charge for COVID-19 relief legislation to include assistance for low-income water customers, a Biden White House further positions the sector well for continued support of this funding in any further relief legislation in the next Congress. A Biden White House is also likely to support additional funding for clean water utilities to plug the gap in lost revenues due to the pandemic.

On other issues, from emerging contaminants to climate change to environmental justice, perspectives on the best paths forward are more nuanced. NACWA will be looking to see – and influence – which issues and proposals gain traction and where new opportunities for progress emerge.

While divided government and personal relationships in Washington often don’t rise above partisan politics, President-elect Biden and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have a unique personal and professional relationship. This stems from their days as Senate colleagues and working together during the Obama Administration to reach bipartisan consensus on several pressing issues including funding the federal government and raising the federal debt limit to prevent government default. Each will no doubt need to represent his own political parties’ interests and desires, but time has proven that their relationship and negotiating tactics often produce tangible legislative results.

Top leadership in both chambers is widely expected to remain the same as the current Congress, including Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as the House’s Republican Leader, and, depending on results from the Georgia runoff, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as Senate Majority Leader and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as Senate Minority Leader.

Congressional Committee spots likely will not be announced until December, but NACWA anticipates little change among Democrats. There will likely be more change on the Republican side, including a potential opening for a new Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chairman. Current EPW member Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) is rumored to be a top pick. Senator Capito has worked to address aging infrastructure, support rural water, and is one of the most active Republican members on PFAS issues.

On the regulatory front, there will likely be a strong push among the new EPA leadership to reverse many of the Trump Administration’s deregulatory actions and ramp up new regulatory and enforcement initiatives. The agenda will be closely shaped by the political appointees selected to lead EPA under the next Administration, but climate change and environmental justice issues are expected to play a central role in EPA regulatory efforts under a Biden EPA. Swift regulatory action on PFAS is also anticipated, as are a host of new environmental lawsuits regarding changes to Trump Administration regulations. 

NACWA’s regulatory will and legal advocacy will be more important than ever over the next few years, and the Association will be active in protecting the interests of its members to ensure appropriate, legal and science-based regulatory and enforcement actions.   

Short-term Outlook over the “lame duck” Congressional session

After a long two-year period of political infighting followed by a bitter election, and a new Administration coming in on January 20, the legislative outlook is limited for the remainder of this year.

Congress’s main focus will be reaching consensus by the House, Senate and White House on how to fund the government past its current expiration deadline of December 11th.

As far as a possible COVID-19 relief bill in the lame duck, it is highly unlikely that any major package will be passed into law before the new Congress begins and President-elect Biden is sworn into office on January 20th

One area where the water sector may see some positive movement in the next several weeks is on the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), where Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress have worked hard over the past two years to pass bipartisan bills through their respective committees.

Over the coming weeks, NACWA will be developing a transition document that the Association will share with the new Administration and Congress outlining the public clean water sector’s advocacy priorities. In the coming months, as NACWA advocacy charges ahead, we will be encouraging all utilities to engage with their congressional delegations and policy makers in Washington, D.C.

Please contact NACWA’s General Counsel & Chief Advocacy Officer, Nathan Gardner-Andrews, to discuss the transition or NACWA advocacy.

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