Mar 11, 2020

The Washington Watchlist

This article originally appeared in Water & Wastes Digest March 2020 issue as "Washington Watchlist" 

clean water act

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted for publishing Jan. 19, 2020. While efforts were made to keep it as current as possible, some information contained in this piece may have changed by the time of publishing.

Welcome to the D.C. Crazy Train, a brutal party-fueled, scandal-enhanced, media fast-pass ride barreling towards November’s presidential election. Whether you are Republican, Democrat, Socialist or a wigged-out Whig, common wisdom says not much action will be taken during a general election year in which more than 170 water and wastewater-related bills are being mulled over in Congress. There are more than 100 bills in the U.S. House of Representatives,  which is scheduled to spend 113 days in session, while there are nearly 70 in the impeachment-consumed U.S. Senate, which is scheduled to meet 168 days in 2020.

After all, many of those those aspiring to the best part-time job in America would perhaps prefer kissing babies, posing for those famous state fair food-photo ops or otherwise hobnobbing with donors instead of tackling critical legislation like affordable safe drinking water, ocean pollution, sewage treatment and overflows, or regulating perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, man-made substances found in public drinking water). Gotta’ love them priorities!

Nevertheless, important legislation is filed, and earnest, hard-working Congressional staffers are laboring over these bills and resolutions aimed at bettering America’s water resources. Thank you Congressional staffers, and know that if all the environmentally-crucial language you have churned out does not matriculate to law this year, it can serve as DNA inspiration for that evolving generational message of Truth, Justice and the American Way for the post-election 117th Congress. 

Water in the Supreme Court 

The most far-reaching water law test, is expected in 2020 from the U.S. Supreme Court which heard arguments last November in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund, a case which could either uphold or gut the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The Clean Water Act was already weakened in late January when the Trump administration announced major environmental rollbacks targeting the clean-water protections of millions of miles of streams and wetlands. The changes are expected to become effective at the end of the first quarter.

“Just when we think the dust is settling, a new crisis du jour emerges. The last three years have been a whirlwind for Congress and the Administration and a gold mine for the D.C. pundits,” said Vanessa Leiby, executive director of the Water & Wastewater Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (WWEMA). “In between the crises, some work is getting done, and I expect that will continue for 2020. Look for PFAS to continue to loom large as a major issue for Congress. This being an election year adds an additional dimension to the issues and maneuvering to bring home some ‘wins’ for the electorate.” 

First Quarter View of 2020

Besides the elections, Leiby lists the following issues as those that Congress and the Administration are occupied in early 2020:

  • Impeachment proceedings should move into the rearview mirror; 
  • War Powers Act/Issues with Iran;
  • President Trump was expected to sign the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to replace NAFTA in late January; however, barriers in all three countries might delay full implementation until this summer or even 2021;
  • PFAS: Lots more on upcoming bills and direction to the U.S. EPA;
  • Further “de-escalating” of U.S.-China trade issues;
  • June’s Group of Seven (G7) trade summit, the last of which ended in August without a joint communique for the first time in its 44-year history;
  • Post-Brexit bilateral trade negotiations with the United Kingdom; and
  • Election year: Everyone would rather be home campaigning.

EPA issues, according to Leiby, include:

  • Finalizing the Lead and Copper Long-term Revisions Rule;
  • Drinking water contamination by perchlorate (an oxidizer found, among other locations, in rocket propellants, munitions, fireworks and vehicle airbag initiators);
  • PFAS;
  • The Water Reuse Action Plan, to innovate and utilize water reuse technology; and 
  • Peak Wet Weather Flows regulations at municipal wastewater treatment works. 

Water Environment Federation Legislative Highlights

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) presented an excellent Government Affairs Update recently featuring these ‘watchlists’ where Claudio Tiernieden, WEF’s Senior Director of Government Affairs, cited pending key regulatory issues, including:

  • The Supreme Court’s Maui case decision;
  • A clarification regarding which wetlands and waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act following repeal of the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS); 
  • Peak Wet Weather Rulemaking and National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES); 
  • Affordability—Watch for the new study funded by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, WEF and the American Water Works Association; and
  • Nutrients Survey by EPA, voluntary screener survey, results TBA.

Steve Dye, WEF’s legislative director, suggests watching these key bills (also, see Dye’s FY 2020 Appropriations Update on left and at bit.ly/washingtonwatchlist): 

  • Authorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2020 now before Congress;
  • Reauthorization of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF);
  • Reauthorization of the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA);
  • H.R. 1497: Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019;
  • H.R. 3521: Wastewater Infrastructure Workforce Investment Act of 2019; and
  • H.R.1764: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit terms extension legislation.

PFAS

H.R.1976 - PFAS Detection Act of 2019

• Sponsor: Rep. Kildee, Daniel T. 

[D-MI-5] (Introduced 03/28/2019)

• 22 cosponsors

H.R.535 - PFAS Action Act of 2019

• Sponsor: Rep. Dingell, Debbie [D-MI-12] (Introduced 01/14/2019)

• 66 cosponsors

Water Scarcity in the West

H.R.4891 - Western Water Security 

• Sponsor: Rep. Torres Small, Xochitl [D-NM-2] (Introduced 10/28/2019)

• Rep. Lujan [D-NM-3], Rep. Haaland [D-NM-1], Rep. Kirkpatrick[D-AZ-2], Rep. Hurd [R-TX-23], Rep. 

DeGette [D-CO-1]

H.R.5302 - Western Water Recycling and Drought Relief Act

• Sponsor: Rep. McNerney, Jerry [D-CA-9] (Introduced 12/04/2019)

• Rep. Gabbard [D-HI-2], Rep. Swalwell [D-CA-15], Rep. Panetta [D-CA-20]

Environmentalism

H.R.4044 - Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act

• Sponsor: Rep. Malinowski, Tom [D-NJ-7] (Introduced 07/25/2019)

• 6 cosponsors

H.R.4031 - Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Act of 2019

• Sponsor: Rep. Joyce, David P. 

[R-OH-14] (Introduced 07/25/2019)

• 49 cosponsors

Job Creation

H.R.1497 - Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019

• Sponsor: Rep. DeFazio, Peter A. [D-OR-4] (Introduced 03/05/2019)

• 56 cosponsorsBills in the U.S. Senate

H.R.1429 - Drinking Water Infrastructure for Job Creation Act 

• Sponsor: Rep. Waters, Maxine 

[D-CA-43] (Introduced 02/28/2019)

• 31 cosponsors

Bills to Watch in the House of Representatives


Environmentalism

S.1982 - Save Our Seas 2.0 Act

• Sponsor: Sen. Sullivan, Dan [R-AK] (Introduced 06/26/2019)

• 19 cosponsors

S.1499 - Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2019

• Sponsor: Sen. Udall, Tom [D-NM] (Introduced 05/16/2019)

• 15 cosponsors

PFAS

S.638 - PFAS Action Act of 2019

• Sponsor: Sen. Carper, Thomas R. [D-DE] (Introduced 02/28/2019)

• 52 cosponsors

S.1372 - PFAS Accountability Act of 2019

• Sponsor: Sen. Stabenow, Debbie [D-MI] (Introduced 05/08/2019)

• 10 cosponsors

Water Scarcity &
Drought Resilience

S.1057 - Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act

• Sponsor: Sen. McSally, Martha [R-AZ] (Introduced 04/08/2019)

• 13 cosponsors

S.1932 - Drought Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act

• Sponsor: Sen. Gardner, Cory [R-CO] (Introduced 06/20/2019)

• Sen. Feinstein [D-CA], Sen. McSally [R-AZ], Sen. Sinema [D-AZ], 

Sen. Rosen [D-NV]

Bills to Watch in the U.S. Senate

PFAS, PFAS! Read More About It

Some items for our next ‘Washington Water Watchlist’ include: Value-based procurement; failing septic tanks, America’s ‘Public Enemy #2’ groundwater polluter; and, how private activity bonds can save our water. 

About the author

George Vorsheim is a contractor for Environment One Corp. Vorsheim can be reached at [email protected]. Joseph Harmes is a freelance writer. Harmes can be reached at [email protected]

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