AWWA: Mid-Term Election Produces Changes in Congress, Water Community

With the change in power in the U.S. Senate following last month?s mid-term elections, some old and possibly new faces will be running things in committees of key concern to the water community.

Although changes in the House are less dramatic, the election will bring new faces to positions of particular importance to water. Keep in mind that not only do some retirements from the current Congress ? voluntary or otherwise ? bring change, but also that members who are returning often play ?musical chairs? after an election and take advantage of seniority to move onto new committees altogether. Senate Republicans will gain chairs and obtain a greater number of seats on every committee, while the Democrats will surrender a corresponding number of seats.

Although it?s too early to predict committee memberships with confidence, we do know Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will have to relinquish the gavel as chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW). Most likely taking her place will be Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who served as chair the last time his party had the majority in the Senate. Boxer will likely become ranking Democrat on the full committee because it handles issues of interest to her. At the Senate EPW Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Sen. John Boozman of (R-Ark.) is in line to take the chair, replacing Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.).

On the House side, congressional insiders have told AWWA that Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) will most likely remain chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is the full committee with direct jurisdiction over drinking water. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) are both seeking to replace the current ranking committee Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), after his pending retirement. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), will likely keep the gavel on the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, which is the subcommittee with oversight of drinking water. The ranking Democrat on the subcommittee will remain Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y).

With respect to wastewater, the Republican leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the Clean Water Act, is expected to remain in place.?However, the ranking Democrats on the full committee and the water subcommittee both lost their re-election bids and will be replaced.

The most important issue, of course, is what the election means for water and wastewater. The AWWA expects congressional Republicans to step up their push against the proposed EPA rule defining Waters of the United States and against the Clean Power Plan. The most likely line of attack is through the appropriations process. AWWA also expects hearings and bills designed to force EPA to reveal all the data it uses and to provide specific information on confidence levels and ?central estimates of risk? in the rulemaking process.

Finally, the election raises the likelihood we?ll see efforts on Capitol Hill to reduce the EPA budget. AWWA is preparing to fight hard to protect funding for the State Revolving Funds and to secure funding for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act pilot program.

Having said these things, keep in mind that holding a majority of seats in the Senate is not the same as having total control there. It takes 60 votes to break a filibuster or a hold placed on a bill, and 66 votes to override a presidential veto. Even if Republicans pick up seats in the races still undecided, they will not break the 60-vote threshold.

On Election Day last month, voters spoke at the ballot box. Though there is not a universal agreement on what they said, a large number of politicians in both parties heard a message of anger and frustration over Washington gridlock. Republicans are likely to work especially hard to show they can get things done in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, and it is possible there will be greater efforts on both sides of the aisle to find middle ground and enact bipartisan legislation on at least a few issues.

Information contained in this report was taken from a news release by the American Water Works Association following the Nov. 4 election. ?

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