Will Congress Pass Final WRDA Bill in 2016?

Lawmakers return to Washington this week with the goal of quickly wrapping up the year’s remaining unfinished business. The top “must-pass” item on the agenda is a continuing resolution (CR) that is expected to keep the federal government operating largely at current funding levels through the end of March. Republican leaders have not yet released the text of the planned CR, but they hope to have it finalized well before federal appropriations lapse on December 9. At that point, members of Congress are expected to head home for the year.gavel2

Still uncertain at this point is the fate of a final Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill that members of the House and Senate have been negotiating since September. There remains a chance that an agreement could be reached within the next two weeks, but any legislative business unfinished by the time Congress votes on the CR is likely to be put off until next year.

According to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the decision on a CR could have negative implications for EPA’s plans to begin offering loans through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) pilot program in early 2017.

Though the 2017 fiscal year began on Oct. 1, to date Congress has only enacted one of the 12 appropriations bills required to fund the government. In September, Congress voted to extend FY2016 funding levels through Dec. 9, with the expectation that lawmakers would finalize an FY2017 appropriations plan during a post-election “lame duck” session.

But Donald Trump’s surprise victory on Election Day, combined with Republican control of the House and Senate, changed the calculus on Capitol Hill.

Now, rather than having to compromise with President Obama on FY2017 funding levels before the end of the year, congressional Republicans can pass a CR to wait out his term and then develop a final FY2017 appropriations plan with the new Trump Administration in the spring. The CR plan outlined by House and Senate GOP leaders earlier this month would extend current FY2016 spending levels through March 31, 2017.

Two versions of FY2017 EPA spending bills considered earlier this year in the House and Senate each would have substantially boosted funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program while also providing EPA with dollars to begin offering loans under WIFIA.

But WIFIA in particular could suffer under a CR, as EPA’s final FY2016 budget included no funding for WIFIA loans. As a result, another straight extension of FY2016 appropriations into next year would also lack WIFIA funding and prevent EPA from offering WIFIA loans for the duration of the CR unless funding was delivered through another avenue such as the WRDA legislation that is also under discussion on Capitol Hill.

AMWA is in the process of reaching out to congressional appropriators in support of adding WIFIA funds to the CR, but reports have indicated that most additional funding that could be tacked on to the bill would likely go to support overseas military efforts.

The Water Sector’s Letter to Trump

The incoming Trump Administration should make drinking water and wastewater a priority in its governing agenda, AMWA and a coalition of water sector organizations wrote to the new President-elect earlier this month.

The letter from AMWA and nine other water sector groups highlighted the contributions of water infrastructure investment to the national economy in terms of job creation and economic output. It also described the nation’s significant, documented water and wastewater infrastructure needs, as identified by EPA’s needs surveys and separate studies carried out by sector organizations.

Read the water sector’s full letter to President-elect Trump

In developing an effective water policy, the associations encouraged President-elect Trump to prioritize increasing investment in water infrastructure, addressing water affordability needs and promoting innovative technologies that will generate “greater cost efficiencies and cleaner drinking water and wastewater.”

The letter was sent to President-elect Trump’s transition team just days after AMWA sent its own letter to the new administration that highlighted similar priorities. Before the election Trump’s campaign published an infrastructure plan that called for incentivizing private investment while tripling funding for EPA’s State Revolving Fund programs, but the President-elect has not elaborated on these ideas since Election Day.

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