ENS Federal Report for September 9, 2016

ENS Federal Report – September 9, 2016
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Senate Kicks Off Floor Debate on Water Resources Development Act

Almost within hours of returning from its summer recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called up the Water Resources Development Act (S. 2848).  This action set the stage for a Senate vote of approval by the end of the week following and expected vote to end debate on the measure.  S. 2848 is notable for the strong bipartisan support it has garnered.  Some Senate watchers predict an 80-vote margin of support.  Under the bill, a number of new provisions would address the ever increasing water infrastructure needs of the nation.  Aside from authorizing several new flood protection and ports, harbors and waterways projects, the bill also provides federal support for responses to lead in drinking water contamination, make permanent the USEPA Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, and provide for an infusion of addition funding for WIFIA and other water supply infrastructure needs and renewal of regional programs such as the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act.  The bill also would authorize the creation of a WaterSense program at USEPA, which would set in place a new effort to promote the use of water and energy efficient technologies through the certification of such products be they water fixtures or treatment systems.  A cloture vote to end debate is expected on Monday with a vote on passage thereafter.

In the House, the corresponding legislation H.R. 5303 was approved by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in late May on a voice vote.  Central to the ongoing debate surrounding the bill is whether the House will consider the legislation before the November elections.  According to congressional staff, the formal report on H.R. 5303 has been completed and the committee is reviewing for final sign-off pending a hearing on recently submitted project reports that could become part of the bill during floor debate.  Assuming that the Senate approves S. 2848 this week with a lopsided vote, attention will then turn to the House to approve its bill prior to the congressional break at the end of September.  Complicating House action is whether House budget hawks will object to consideration of the $5 billion WRDA package.  This is important because the limited floor time available for legislative debate would likely require the House to approve the bill through “suspension” of the rules.  This strategy would preclude debate and speed passage.  If this process is realized, then the House and Senate staff could use the time between the recess and Congress’ return for a Lame Duck Session in November to reconcile differences between H.R. 5303 and S. 2848.  Assuming such an outcome, the differences between the two bills are significant.  H.R. 5303 is a limited bill targeting core U.S. Army Corps of Engineers related to flood protection and construction and maintenance activities at the nation’s ports and harbors.  Whereas the Senate bill is a collection of diverse water resources policy issues ranging from ports and harbors to climate resiliency matters.

Amendment Accepted – Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)

To improve Section 595 Rural Western Water Program administered by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers provides rural communities in Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming design and construction assistance for water infrastructure projects.  Projects have included storm/sewer systems, water treatment, and water delivery infrastructure.

House Approves Legislation to Prevent Legal Settlements Requiring Donations

The House this week approved the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act (H.R. 5063) that would prevent federal agencies from requiring “donations” or payments to third parties (including not for profit groups) as part of any civil litigation settlements.  However, in a nod to the controversial nature of the bill, the practice of requiring restitution for environmental damages would continue to be available as part of any settlement agreement related to the litigation.  Nonetheless, the legislation, if enacted into law, would mark a major change in the way USEPA could structure settlements.  In the past, the agency has relied on settlements to fund initiatives unrelated to the focus of the litigation.  A Senate companion bill, S. 3050, is pending in the Senate, however, action on the legislation is considered unlikely given the opposition to the intent of the legislation by the Administration.

Energy Conferees Hold First Formal Meeting

On September 8, members of the House-Senate conference committee met (Video) for the kickoff meeting to begin negotiations on comprehensive energy legislation, S. 2012.  Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), urged her colleagues to negotiate with a particular goal in mind “a bipartisan bill devoid of provisions that would earn a veto from the president.”

House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), in his opening statement said, “In my mind, everything should be on the table and there is enough good, low-hanging fruit that we can come up with a good package at the end of the day.” Chairman Bishop highlighted the importance for the final package to address west-wide drought issues and increased federal lands management to address wildfire.

Additional Republicans priorities include expediting natural gas exports, reducing red tape on energy infrastructure permitting issues and reducing regulatory burdens on sportsmen. Democrats support permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, accelerate efficiency gains and provisions increasing the amount of renewable energy investment.

As soon as the members left the committee room, congressional staff remained behind to continue the process of working through the issues (as they had throughout the August recess). With no set date for the conference committee to meet again, a final, negotiated package is not expected to be addressed until the post-election Lame Duck Session.

Reports/Studies/Legislation/Grants

Competitive Grant Awards Federal Transit Administration Buses and Bus Facilities

Working paper on budget process reform from the House GOP Budget Committee

NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule Implementation Guidance – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently promulgated the NPDES Electronic Reporting Rule to modernize Clean Water Act

reporting for municipalities, industries, and other facilities by converting to an electronic data reporting system.

Upcoming Hearings

September 13, 2016

Senate Committee on Agriculture – Markup of Wildfire Bill

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Interior Subcommittee hearing on 21st Century Conservation Practices.

September 21, 2016

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure – Hearing – An Examination of FEMA’s Limited Role in Local Land Use Development Decisions

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