House bill boosts EPA funding amid infrastructure plan fallout

The House Appropriations Committee passed its Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) Interior & Environment Appropriations bill in May, which funds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and included a significant increase for key EPA programs. This occurred on the same day President Trump broke off discussions with Congressional leaders on a comprehensive infrastructure package.

The FY20 House bill, which passed the Committee on a party-line vote and now heads to the full House of Representatives for a vote in June, includes a large increase for the EPA. The legislation brings proposed total agency funding to $9.5 billion in FY20, more than $700 million more than FY19 funding. These increases are a loud push-back on cuts to EPA, such as staffing levels, proposed in the White House 2020 budget. With the House flipping to Democratic control this year, such increases were anticipated. The Senate, which has not released its FY20 funding bills yet, is expected to propose funding levels closer to recent years for agencies like the EPA.

Specifically, the House bill provides $1.784 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). This proposed increase is $90 million over the recent Fiscal Years, and further builds on the increases of $300 million to the CWSRF received in both FY18 and FY19. This significant increase to the SRF shows the importance of strong advocacy by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies and its members to grow the SRF pot.

According to NACWA, the association’s top priorities authorized in the 2018 America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) are also funded in the House bill – $90 million for the Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Control Grants and $1 million for the Water Utility Workforce Grants Program.

While the 2018 AWIA law authorized dozens of new programs, not every new program was funding by the House. NACWA said it thanks the Congressional champions it worked with to ensure these programs received funding. The House bill also proposed full funding for EPA’s Geographic Watershed Programs and reflects other timely concerns, such as PFAS contamination, by proposing $18 Million in new funding for further study of PFAS and their impacts on water resources and public health.

One notable decrease in the House bill relative to last year’s funding is for WIFIA, which would receive $18 million less than last year for a total of $50 million in FY20. However, WIFIA enjoys a broad bipartisan base of support and it is likely this funding line may grow as negotiations continue.

Despite appropriations progress in the House, activity will slow until the Senate determines how it will proceed with FY20 Appropriations. Whereas the House deemed overall spending levels it felt appropriate for FY20 and wrote its spending bills to reflect those totals, Senate procedures call for waiting to draft bills until a cross-Chamber FY20 budget agreement is reached. This unresolved issue may push final passage of FY20 spending bills up against the FY20 Oct. 1 start.

On the infrastructure front, discussions between the White House and Congress are on hold for now.  Despite conversations a few weeks ago that suggested a potential opening for negotiations, the White House has now made clear it is not interested in pursuing discussions at this time. NACWA has always believed that any significant water infrastructure advancements this Congress would move as part of a Water Resources Development Act in 2020, and that now seem the most likely scenario.

Congress and the White House also hoped to pass into law long-delayed additional assistance to areas impacted by federal Disasters (Hurricanes Florence, Michael, Harvey, Irma and Maria; Typhoon Yutu; and the 2018 wildfires and earthquakes) before leaving for Memorial Day.  However, that goal was not met.

The supplemental disaster package, which would include significant new dollars directed to SRFs in disaster-impacted states, has been held up in the Senate for months as Congress and the White House debated the total amount and allocations of funding, and legislators tried to attach other priorities to the package.

Hopes were high in late May as agreements were reached and the Senate passed the bill 85-8 just before Memorial Day – only for it to be delayed in the House when a single Congressman objected. A final vote was delayed and the House will likely try to pass the bill again when it returns to Washington from recess this week.

Source: NACWA

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