As Congress prepares to break for the 2016 election, it is the perfect to time to provide an update on what’s up in DC. Between the passage of major water resources legislation, a continuing resolution to keep the government funded though the election, and a major court case, this has been a busy month.
Delaware River Basin Conservation Act
The Delaware River Basin Conservation Act was passed by the U.S. Senate as part of a larger package of legislation contained in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) on September 15th. The bill was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support by a vote of 95 to three. The Water Resources Development Act authorizes water-related projects carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including dam repair and removal, beach restoration, and navigation improvements. A more detailed update on the WRDA can be found below. For more information on this significant, and historic step for our watershed, see our press release.
Water Resources Development Act
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have passed their own respective versions of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which means the two bills will need to reconciled to create an identical version before it can be signed President. The Senate version is considerably more ambitious, authorizing $10.6 billion, half of which would go towards projects for clean drinking water; healthy rivers, streams, and lakes; and other areas outside of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ traditional scope. Most notably for our region, the Senate bill includes several regional authorizations, including the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Long Island Sound Restoration Initiative, Columbia River Basin Restoration, and Lake Tahoe Restoration. The House version of the bill only includes the authorization of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Several other important amendments in the House version include $170 million in aid to Flint, MI, though significantly lower than the Senate’s $220 million aid package, and a measure to set aside permanent, priority funding for the Great Lakes region.
According to Michael Strachn, senior advisor with the water policy firm Dawson & Associates and former deputy chief of staff for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the clean water and restoration funding is “going to be the single biggest difference between the two bills as it goes to conference” (Environment & Energy Daily; account required).
With Congress leaving town at the end of September, any work on bringing the two bills together will take place after the election in November. A conference committee made up of leadership in the Senate and House authorizing committees will be formed to reconcile the two different bills. Once the committee comes to an agreement, the Senate and House will take up the compromise bill. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer (CA) issued a joint statement expressing confidence that the conference process will be a smooth and successful one. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (PA-9) expressed the need for WRDA to be enacted as soon as possible following House passage in a press release on Wednesday, Sept. 28th.
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed will be working with our members and partners over the next couple of months to raise awareness of the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program and the importance of having the program authorized in the final version of the Water Resources Development Act.
Keeping the Government Running: Continuing Resolution
Congress passed a spending bill this week to keep the government running through December 9, 2016. The bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), extends current spending levels through the allotted date, conveniently after the 2016 election. The CR, however, does contain a few additions to the budget including:
- $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus
- $500 million in flood aid for Louisiana and other states affected in the recent storm
- $26 million for the Bureau of Land Management to cover a dip in drilling fees caused by low oil prices
- $3 million for the EPA to begin implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act
The Senate passed the measure by a vote of 72-16 and the House by a vote of 342-85 several hours later. The White House has indicated the President will sign the legislation before the fiscal year ends on Friday at midnight (Wall Street Journal).
Clean Power Plan
The Obama Administration’s flagship environmental policy, the Clean Power Plan, had its day in court on Tuesday, September 27th. In what has been described as a “marathon day”, the U.S. Court of Appeals heard nearly seven hours of oral arguments from the EPA and supporters of the Clean Power Plan including 18 states, as well as those opposing the rule including lawyers for 27 states and numerous, mostly coal-reliant companies. The Clean Power Plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 32 percent by 2030 by targeting coal-fired and natural gas plants. The ten judge panel’s decision is particularly important due to the evenly divided Supreme Court. Should the U.S. Court of Appeals decision be appealed up to the Supreme Court and the justices are split four-to-four, the lower court’s decision will stand. Implementation of the Clean Power Plan is currently frozen after the Supreme Court voted to delay implementation until after the appeals process is complete (CNN).
Paris Climate Change Agreement
On September 3rd, the United States and China formally committed their countries to the Paris climate change agreement. President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping submitted documents to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon officially accepting the terms of the agreement (Politico). The U.N. hosted a summit on September 21st in New York City, during which 20 additional countries formally ratified the accord. In total, 60 nations representing 48 percent of global planet-warming emissions have ratified the agreement. The legally binding portion of the Paris accord requires governments to make a public pledge to address global warming and submit those plans to the U.N. to be published online. The agreement will take effect 30 days after at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions formally approve the deal, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon predicts the accord will go into effect by the end of 2016 (New York Times).