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Congress Approves Two-Week Funding Extension
On December 7, President Trump signed a two-week Continuing Resolution (CR), funding the federal government through December 21;
The CR extends funding for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Interior, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Commerce-Justice-Science, Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD), Financial Services, and State-Foreign Operations measures;
Congressional leaders have expressed optimism in resolving differences in the spending bills before wrapping up work for the year;
However, it’s possible that DHS appropriations may not be resolved in time due to concerns over funding levels and use of funds.
Trump Administration Set to Release WOTUS Proposal
Next week, the Trump Administration is scheduled to release a revised “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule;
According to an EPA memo acquired by the New York Times, the new rule would be significantly weaker;
The revised rule would exclude streams and tributaries that do not run year-round from the regulations;
Additionally, wetlands not directly connected to larger bodies of water would be excluded from the rule;
Myron Ebell, who led the President’s EPA transition team, stated that the revised rule will “significantly reduce the federal jurisdictional footprint on these waters, to significantly below what it was before the rule”;
There is still a long process ahead, as the revised rule will be submitted for public comment, with a final rule scheduled for November 2019;
The Trump Administration has also moved to delay implementation of the 2015 rule, in order to provide time for a revision of that rule;
A federal judge in Washington state ruled to vacate the Trump Administration’s delay last month, stating the Administration did not provide the public “with a meaningful opportunity to comment as required by the Administrative Procedure Act”;
This ruling mirrors one issued in August from a South Carolina federal judge which made the 2015 rule the law of the land in 22 states;
However, the new ruling vacates the delay entirely in order to provide clarity;
The new ruling does not change the status of the rule in the remaining 28 states where other courts have issued judicial stays of the regulation pending litigation;
Both rulings imply that the Trump Administration will need to allow for full public input in their efforts to repeal and replace the 2015 rule;
Additionally, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA) introduced legislation last week, to repeal the 2015 WOTUS rule and return to the pre-2015 definition;
However, the legislation is unlikely to move in the final weeks of the 115th Congress;
In September 2017, APWA submitted comments to the EPA and the Corps on the need for clarity in the WOTUS rule.
DOT Announcing New BUILD Grants Tomorrow
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is expected to announce $1.5 billion in Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grants on December 11 at 1:30 pm ET;
BUILD allow states to compete for grants to fund road, rail, transit and port projects that advance national objectives;
For additional information on the BUILD grants, please click here.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Releases Major Study on U.S. Interstate Highway System
On December 6, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) released a consensus study report titled, “Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future”;
The Transportation Research Board (TRB), which is a program unit within the NASEM, had been asked by Congress to form a committee specifically to study the Interstate System and to make recommendations “…on the features, standards, capacity needs, application of technologies, and intergovernmental roles to upgrade the Interstate System” and “to advise on any changes in law and resources required to further the recommend actions”;
Calling for an annual investment of between $45 and $70 billion over the next twenty years, the report calls for specific measures such as increasing and indexing the federal fuel tax to inflation, and a changeover to tolling and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to provide future highway funding;
The Report specifically delves into the existing challenges the Interstate System faces such as: Aging Assets; Escalating Urban Traffic Levels; Demands for More System Coverage; Expectations for Continual Safety Gains; Transformations to the Vehicle Fleet; Changing Climate Conditions; and Eroding Revenues for System Funding.
Committee Leadership for 116th Congress
APWA compiled a list Senate and House Committee Chairs and Ranking Members, for committees which APWA engages with regularly, for the 116th Session of Congress;
We will continue to update this list as more committee leadership roles are confirmed;
Wheeler Nomination Could Hit Committee Early in 2019
The nomination of EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler by President Trump, to become full-time Administrator, may be heard in the Senate early in 2019;
Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) stated that he wants to move quickly in the new Congress;
Wheeler was named Acting Administrator of the Agency after the resignation of Scott Pruitt in July;
Wheeler was confirmed by the Senate earlier this year as Deputy Administrator, but will need another confirmation for this position;
The confirmation for Deputy Administrator took six months, and environmental groups have already lined up in opposition;
House Democrats have also questioned his actions regarding climate change;
Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), incoming chair of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce, wrote Wheeler to request documents on specific programs;
Wheeler has continued to focus the Agency on rewriting regulations, including the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS).
EPA Says Small Water Utilities Struggle with Compliance
According to the EPA, more than 3,500 water utilities in the U.S. have violated at least one of the health-based standards;
Of those utilities, more than half serve 500 people or fewer;
Violations of health-based standards are much less common than violations that don’t affect health;
The number of violations has been consistent in recent years, though the same utilities are not in violation year after year;
EPA admits that many of these smaller utilities lack the financial means to deal with major violations, and will need assistance from state and federal agencies;
Lee Forsgren, Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, stated that he wants to use enforcement actions on non-compliant systems only as a last resort;
APWA has been working with EPA and members of Congress to find ways to provide additional resources to small water utilities;
APWA was supportive of the passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act, signed into law in October, which included a reauthorization of the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program, as well as significant funding increases for the program;
Finally, the bill included the SRF WIN Act language, which would allow state financing authorities to bundle small water projects into a single WIFIA application.
House Committee Releases Study on Critical Infrastructure
Last week, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations released a report identifying procedures to address and prevent cybersecurity incidents;
The report provides a synopsis of the Committee’s work, which includes briefings, hearings, letters, reports, and offers six priorities to improve protection against critical infrastructure cyber vulnerabilities;
Last week, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a report on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) financial accountability during the 2017 hurricanes and California wildfires;
Included in the report are GAO recommendations to improve FEMA oversight and distribution of taxpayer dollars when providing financial assistance to state, local, territorial, and tribal governments before, during and following disasters;
FEMA will be conducting four 60-minute webinars on the National Exercise Program (NEP) during December and January;
The webinars are scheduled for December 12, December 17, January 9, and January 15, each at 1:00 pm ET;
The NEP is designed as a two-year cycle of exercises across the nation that examine and validate capabilities in all preparedness mission areas, protection, prevention, mitigation, response, and recovery;
To register for a free webinar session, please click here;
For additional NEP information, please click here.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to host Stakeholder Webinars
On December 11 & 12, from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm ET, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is scheduled to conduct webinars on the establishment of a public private partnership (P3) pilot program;
The webinars will focus on the request for information on conceptual P3s with USACE civil works projects including details on initial screening criteria for pilots, selection criteria for pilots, known challenges, and general timeline for pilot proposals which will be open to the public by January 2019, there will be a discussion session following the presentation;
December 11, at 10:00 am ET, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment is scheduled to hold a hearing on 21st Century Transportation Fuels Act – click here for more information;
December 12, at 10:15 am ET, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy is scheduled to hold a hearing titled, “Public Private Partnerships for Federal Energy Management” – click here for more information.