August 3, 2020

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COVID-19 Negotiations Continue

  • Last week, Senate Republicans introduced a $1 trillion COVID-19 relief/recovery package, the HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools) Act;
  • In May, the House passed a $3.5 trillion package (H.R. 6800), and negotiations continue this week between House and Senate leadership, and the White House;
  • Though strong disagreements remain, a compromise will likely come together this week as negotiators made comments on Sunday stating “progress” is being made;
  • Both chambers are presently scheduled to recess for the month of August (as is tradition) at the end of this week, however, that may change depending on progress on the next COVID-19 relief/recovery package;
  • APWA Government Affairs has consistently weighed in on behalf of the Association’s public policy priorities for infrastructure investment (April letter to HillJune letter to Hill) as a key component of COVID-19 response and recovery efforts;
  • Be sure to check out APWA Advocacy Letters for full access to letters APWA has submitted to Congress with other state and local organizations;
  • Progress is being made in the House on its fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations, as last week the chamber approved its second FY 2021 minibus spending package, which included funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT);
    • $107.2 billion in total funding for U.S. DOT is proposed, including $62.9 billion for the Federal Highway Administration, $18.9 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $18.1 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration and $3 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration;
    • COVID-19 emergency funds are also included in the bill proposing $26 billion for U.S. DOT infrastructure programs, an additional $3 billion for the BUILD grant program (in addition to the $1 billion proposed for FY 2021), $2.5 billion additional for FAA grants, and more.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) FY 2021 Appropriations measure H.R. 7669, originally included as part of a minibus package last week, was removed from consideration;
    • H.R. 7669 would have provided $50.7 in funding to DHS, but was taken out of the minibus due to concerns it would result in the minibus failing to pass the House;
    • Additional details on H.R. 7669 can be found in the July 27 edition of the Washington Report.
  • The Senate has not yet passed any FY 2021 appropriations bills, and with the current FY ending September 30, 2020, a continuing resolution will very likely be necessary to keep the federal government funded until FY 2021 appropriations bills can be passed into law.

House Approves Water Projects Bill

  • The House passed H.R. 7575, the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, by voice vote on July 29;
  • The bill authorizes projects to improve America’s ports and harbors, inland waterway navigation, flood and storm protection, and other water resources infrastructure;
  • H.R. 7575 authorizes construction of 34 projects studied and approved by the Chief of Engineers since WRDA 2018 was signed into law;
  • Additionally, the bill authorizes 35 new Corps of Engineers feasibility studies and directs the Corps to expedite the completion of 41 ongoing studies;
  • You can read APWA’s letter of support for the legislation and more about the House bill and the state of play for the Senate bill on our website.

Legal Challenges for White House NEPA Update

  • Two separate lawsuits were filed to stop the Trump Administration’s rewrite of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on July 29;
  • The Administration’s revisions to NEPA would limit the scope of agency reviews as well as what projects warrant scrutiny;
  • A suit was filed by seventeen groups with roots in the Southeast against the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), alleging CEQ “cut every corner” in their update and violated the Administrative Procedures Act;
  • A separate suit was filed in California by a large coalition of environmental groups, alleging the Final Rule issued by CEQ “upends virtually every aspect of NEPA and its longstanding practice;”
  • The lawsuits are the first of several expected to challenge the NEPA updates;
  • CEQ has stated the average length of a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is 645 pages, and the average time to conduct a full NEPA review on a project is 7.3 years;
  • APWA is supportive of previous efforts made to streamline regulations, including under the FAST Act and the “One Federal Decision” executive order;
  • The major change to NEPA under this final rule would be the removal of "cumulative impacts" as a consideration for review of infrastructure permits; 
  • APWA submitted comments to CEQ in March regarding the proposed updates to the regulations implementing procedural provisions of NEPA, reiterating the need for streamlining environmental regulations wherever possible while still protecting the environment, and also reinforcing the need for state and local control in infrastructure projects;
  • Additionally, APWA members do not support inserting a “shot-clock” regarding permit review in any update of the NEPA regulations;
  • Finally, the comments make clear the need to keep “cumulative reviews” as a part of NEPA in order to accurately assess environmental impacts and resiliency of infrastructure.

House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Drinking Water Regulations

  • On July 28, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Environment & Climate Change held a hearing on the nation’s drinking water regulations;
  • At the hearing, Democrats expressed frustration at the slow rate of issuing regulations on toxins in drinking water, including PFAS, and took issue with the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not issued a drinking water standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 24 years;
  • Democrats cited this fact as proof that the law is broken and places pressure on states and localities to set standards in a patchwork manner;
  • Republicans on the committee expressed concern that legislative changes being considered, such as the removal of the cost-benefit analysis required of EPA before setting all new regulations, would force smaller water utilities to use ineffective methods to control water quality;
  • It was argued that the feasibility study required in a separate portion of the SDWA already takes cost into account, and makes the cost-benefit analysis redundant;
  • Others argued that dropping that analysis requirement would force EPA to make regulatory decisions based on the resources and ability of large water systems;
  • Concern for small water systems, as well as states that are facing revenue shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was paramount at the hearing;
  • A new report from the Association of State Drinking Water Agencies projects a shortfall of $469 billion for state drinking water programs by the year 2029;
  • SDWA is due for reauthorization this year, and the Senate bill reauthorizing the program and supported by APWA was passed by the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works earlier this year.

U.S. DOT Awards Over $273 Million in Grants to 184 Airports

  • Last week, U.S. DOT announced approximately $273 million in infrastructure and airport safety grants;
  • The grants may be used for critical infrastructure and safety projects including purchasing aircraft rescue and firefighting equipment, constructing runways and taxiways, repairing runways and taxiways, installing aircraft lighting and signage, conducting airport master plan studies, and installing airport perimeter fencing.