Busy Final Stretch on Capitol Hill
(December 9, 2020) –Several pieces of legislation are making their way to the House and Senate floors this week for final consideration as Congress hopes to conclude its work for this session before the holidays.
While House and Senate Leadership and Appropriators continue to hammer out the final details of a possible Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) omnibus spending package, Congress is also expected to pass a one-week continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government past its current December 11 deadline.
As far as a COVID-19 relief package, Democrat and Republican Congressional Leadership remain far apart on the size and scope of another package and whether to attach it to any potential omnibus spending bill.
However, due to growing political pressure to pass some type of assistance bill before Congress adjourns, last week a bipartisan group of Senators outlined a $908 billion proposal to help families, small businesses, and state and local governments impacted by the pandemic. This proposal had an initial lukewarm reception, but quickly and surprisingly gained steam last week when President-Elect Biden and key Congressional leaders agreed to further negotiation.
This bipartisan proposal reflects a middle ground between House Democrat’s $2 trillion proposal, which includes assistance for water ratepayers, and Senate Republican proposals closer to $500 billion which would not include water or local government relief. The $908 billion compromise proposal being considered this week does not contain specific funding for water and wastewater utilities. However, it would provide $160 billion in new funding for state and local governments, more than doubling the initial influx of $150 billion in CARES funds passed for states and local governments back in March.
The White House has also weight in with a proposed $916 billion package that mirrors the bipartisan bill with $160 billion in state and local funding but no specific allocation for drinking water or clean water.
CARES Act funds, which are available for states and local governments to use for COVID-related expenses, have provided relief for a growing number of utilities who have worked through their local, county and state governments to secure limited funds for COVID-19 expenses ranging from PPE, wastewater monitoring and aid for utility ratepayer assistance programs. Their use is restricted to new COVID-19 expenses – not lost revenues – and expenses must be incurred by Dec. 30.
The bipartisan group, as well as Senate Leader McConnell, have indicated their support for extending the current December 30 deadline for incurring eligible expenses under the current CARES Act funds. This extension would provide more flexibility for utilities working to utilize these funds.
However, limited access to some of these CARES funds is far from adequate as a substitute for direct aid for the water sector. As Congressional Leadership continues to negotiate towards a potential next COVID-19 relief package, NACWA and the water sector continue to advocate for direct assistance to public water utilities to help address the impacts of lost revenues and increased customer inability to pay as a result of the pandemic.
National Defense Authorization Act
Additionally, this week Congress is set to pass the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a bipartisan fashion despite a veto threat by President Trump. Thanks to the strong advocacy efforts by NACWA, its members and water sector partners, the final FY21 NDAA excludes any problematic PFAS related provisions for POTWs. Instead, PFAS provisions included in the final FY21 NDAA focus on Department of Defense (DoD) related PFAS measures and remediation, as well further funding for, and greater federal coordination on, PFAS research.
While the FY21 NDAA represents an important step for the public clean water sector with regards to PFAS, NACWA still encourages its members to continue advocating to their Senators and Representatives the need for any further potential PFAS legislation to ensure EPA’s ongoing and proper science-driven regulatory process is able to play out.
Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)
Lastly, and much to the disappointment of NACWA and the water sector, Congress will vote this week on a final Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020 that excludes key clean water and drinking water funding and policies.
Unlike the last few cycles, where WRDA was used as a catch-all vehicle for both drinking water and clean water legislation and authorizing US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) projects and policies, the conferenced WRDA 2020 entirely focuses on the USACE. This is despite both the House and Senate Committees of jurisdiction having advanced strong bipartisan WRDA proposals for clean water this Congress, including increases in funding.
Budgetary scoring and cost challenges have been cited as reasons for clean water and drinking water proposals falling out of the deal. NACWA issued a press statement on Sunday, Dec 6 expressing how Congress has failed to deliver for water despite the dedicated efforts of utilities to deliver on public health and environmental protection, particularly during the pandemic.
The Association’s concerns have received significant press attention which you can view here and here. NACWA is urging Congress to build on the bipartisan progress made this WRDA cycle and deliver on clean water investment as a top infrastructure or stimulus priority early next year.