What's Up in DC: National Policy News Update

Western Front of the United States Capitol,  Architect of the Capitol

Western Front of the United States Capitol, Architect of the Capitol

It has been an incredibly busy two weeks in Washington, DC as lawmakers work to advance legislation before the Memorial Day break. Once they return, the House and Senate will have just 25 and 27 legislative days, respectively, before Congress breaks again for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in July. In the last 14 days, we've seen major authorizing legislation, including the Water Resources Development Act and appropriations bills move through committee, as well as our very own Delaware River Basin Conservation Act.


Delaware River Basin Conservation Act

The Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works approved the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act (DRBCA) last week by a voice vote. The next step is to have the bill considered by the full Senate, hopefully before the July recess. The Delaware River Basin Conservation would establish a non-regulatory Delaware River Basin Restoration Program in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with a $5 million grant and technical assistance program. The Delaware River Basin Restoration Program would establish a coordinated approach for identifying, prioritizing, and implementing restoration and protection activities throughout the River Basin.

The grant program would require a minimum 50-percent non-federal match such as state or private dollars so that any federal investment is at least doubled. Notably, the bill would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consult with non-governmental organizations and partnerships working in the region to ensure program implementation incorporates a basin-wide strategy that is complementary to existing funding programs and initiatives throughout the Watershed.


Water Resources Development Act

Late last month, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee approved the Water Resources and Development Act of 2016. The bill authorizes $5 billion in water infrastructure projects with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers including those aimed at flood control, waterway improvements, and environmental restoration. The Senate's version of WRDA contains aid for Flint, MI and other cities with lead-pipe water distribution systems. 

Today, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee considered and approved its own version of WRDA 2016, which includes authorizations for 28 Army Corps projects and deauthorizations of projects to offset the $5 billion in new spending. There are several key differences between the House and Senate versions of WRDA, that will need to be reconciled before the bill can be signed by the President once it is passed in both chambers.

The House version of WRDA includes authorization of a study requested by the Delaware River Basin Commission, which would review the operations at several federally owned and administered reservoirs aimed at enhancing opportunities for ecosystem restoration and water supply.


Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act

This week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies started working on its version of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Approrpations Act, which will set the FY 2017 budget for the Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service, and the Forest Service, among others. The bill would appropriate $32.1 billion in spending and includes several policy riders that would block White House environmental priorities; the Obama Administration has threatened to veto the bill (Greenwire; account required).

Harmful policy riders:

  • Blocking the EPA from implementing the Clean Water Rule and Clean Power Plan
  • Blocking the EPA from finalizing and implementing revised methane limits
  • Preempting a stream protection rule from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to be introduced in July

Additionally, the appropriations bill provides only $322 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, down 28 percent from this year's allocation of $450 million.

There are a few positives in the bill:

  • Increase in the budget for Clean Water State Revolving Fund to $1 billion
  • First ever appropriations for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act at $35 million
  • $90 million for an abandoned mine reclamation pilot program
  • Fully funds the Highlands Conservation Act at $10 million


Toxic Substances Control Act

Last night, the House passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by an overwhelming majority of 403-12, after years of negotiations to update the 40-year old law. The Senate is poised to advance the legislation quickly through the Environment & Public Works Committee and schedule the bill for a vote by the full Senate. 

According to Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), one of the lead negotiators working on TSCA, the bill would allow the EPA to gather information for chemical assessments to identify which substances the agency needs to restrict. Despite concerns about specific provisions, there is overall support for the bill from both industry and environmental groups. One highlight is that the bill allows states to continue working on regulations for the top 10 high priority chemicals on the EPA's list (Environment & Energy Daily; account required).