Congress Moves on New COVID-19 Relief Bill, Senate Holds EPA Administrator Confirmation Hearing
(February 4, 2021) – Congress ramped up its legislative work this week with the passage of a budget resolution that is being used as the legislative vehicle for the latest round of COVID-19 relief through a process known as reconciliation. The Senate also held a confirmation hearing February 3 for Michael Regan, who has been nominated by President Biden to serve as the next EPA Administrator.
The process for the COVID-19 bill now moves back to House and Senate committees which will each draft up their respective portions of a COVID-19 relief package in line with the $1.9 trillion amount outlined by President Biden and based on legislative directives provided by the Democratic Majority Congressional Leadership. Once the committees finish their work, everything will be packaged into one bill and sent to the full House and Senate for a final vote, with the Democratic Majority’s goal of doing so by the end of the month.
Because budget reconciliation rules only allow for altering current revenue or direct spending, any additional targeted relief for the water sector is expected to come in the form of additional assistance for low-income water and wastewater ratepayers as was provided in the form of $638 million through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in last December’s appropriations/ COVID-19 relief package.
While the Biden plan proposes a combined total of $5 billion in additional funding for low-income water and energy assistance, NACWA and the water sector have been working with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (E&C) and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP), which have jurisdiction over the LIHEAP/HHS funding portions of this reconciliation process, to ensure that the next COVID-19 relief package provides the highest level of additional HHS funding for water.
On the infrastructure front, while it is still unclear how a comprehensive bill will come together later this year, Democrats have indicated they are considering using the reconciliation process to advance an infrastructure package as well. At this time, however, NACWA and the water sector have begun high-level discussions with both Congressional Democrats and Republicans on what a package may look like for water.
Also this week the, Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held its confirmation hearing of current North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan to be the next EPA Administrator.
During the hearing, Secretary Regan highlighted several initiatives he would like to see the EPA undertake should he be confirmed, including pursuing discharge limits and water quality standards for PFAS, as well as better accounting for industrial sources of PFAS pollution. Regan also detailed his desire for holistic approach to addressing climate change issues and commitment to addressing environmental justice. It is likely he will receive bipartisan support from the EPW Committee to advance to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote in the coming weeks.