Senate Committee Advances Office of Water Assistant Administrator Nominee
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works favorably reported out the nomination of Radhika Fox to be Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The committee advanced the nomination on a vote of 14-6. Fox’s nomination now goes to the full Senate for debate and a vote, expected within the coming weeks.
Earlier this month, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to consider the nomination of Radhika Fox to be Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. Fox testified that if confirmed, she would work to “advance durable water solutions” and dedicate efforts to ensuring all communities have access to clean and safe water. She emphasized that she would prioritize collaboration, corporation, and communication with all who are impacted by the Office of Water’s regulatory and policy decisions.
During the hearing, Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) asked Fox if she believed the 2015 WOTUS rule was an overreach of governmental authority. Fox stated that she believes WOTUS is a foundational component of the work for the Office of Water because it establishes the foundation for how the Office develops future water quality decisions. She explained that the Office is reviewing the rule and assessing what is working and what is not working from an implementation standpoint. She stated that the goal is to develop a rule that can endure future Administration changes. Senator Mark Kelly (D-AZ) questioned Fox about the WOTUS rule in the context of the arid West, asking how USEPA will consider the concerns of the arid western states when developing a new WOTUS rule. Fox said that they will use stakeholder engagement through listening sessions and regional roundtables to understand how implementation may be impacted based on differing ecosystems.
Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) asked Fox what she would do to ensure wastewater and drinking water are safe and affordable for all. Fox listed three key actions she would take, including implementing the range of water financing programs at USEPA, as well as the programs recently developed by Congress, strengthening the states and local governments’ capacities to implement the financing programs to ensure affordability of water services is achievable at all scales, and addressing PFAS contamination and other emerging contaminants to ensure that all communities’ water resources are clean.
Representative Huffman Introduces Western Water and Drought Legislation
Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) has introduced the FUTURE Western Water Infrastructure and Drought Resiliency Act (FUTURE Western Water Act) (H.R. 3404). The legislation is a comprehensive package that aims to address western water infrastructure and drought response needs. When speaking to the bill’s introduction, Huffman stated that “as the country starts to rebuild from the pandemic, we are facing another year of devastating droughts in the West. We cannot keep lurching from one crisis to the next, and it’s become abundantly clear that we must build resilient systems that work for everyone.” Huffman introduces this ambitious package as the House and Senate are developing a comprehensive infrastructure investment package with the Administration.
The FUTURE Western Water Act’s provisions are divided into four major policy categories: infrastructure development, improved technology and data, water job training and education, and ecosystem protection and restoration. Below is a summary of the overall policy provisions within each category.
- Infrastructure Development:
- Authorizes $750 million for sustainable, multi-benefit water storage projects
- Authorizes $500 million for water recycling and reuse projects
- Authorizes $260 million for innovative water desalination projects
- Establishes a process to authorize new major water storage projects owned or supported by USDOI, modeled after the USACE WRDA authorization process for water projects
- Improved Technology and Data:
- Invests in water data and technology to improve water management and reducing energy and water waste
- Types of investments include expanded water technology “X-Prize” to support new stream gages and the development and deployment of emerging technologies to help manage and improve water supply availability
- Water Job Training and Education:
- Federal support for water education activities, collaborative water management efforts and training, and professional development support for the water sector workforce
- Ecosystem Protection and Restoration:
- Includes measures to reverse fish and wildlife species decline
- Eligible measures include new voluntary incentives for farmers to provide waterbird habitats, expanded watershed health project funding, support wildlife refuges, multi-benefit water storage projects that provide benefits for water supply and wildlife, and improved drought planning efforts to protect biodiversity
President Biden Signs New EO on Mitigating Climate Risks to U.S. Financial Resources
President Biden has signed an Executive Order (EO) on Climate-Related Financial Risk that directs federal agencies to work to mitigate financial risks to U.S. assets posed by climate change. The EO explains that climate change impacts threaten the security of U.S. financial assets, and extreme weather events, which are becoming increasingly frequent, risk disrupting critical supply chains. The EO’s fact sheet states that interruptions and disruptions to supply chains lead to depriving communities of critical resources, such as water supplies. Specifically, the EO directs federal agencies and departments to develop a whole-of-government approach to mitigate climate-related financial risks, encourage financial regulators to assess climate-related financial risk, bolster the resilience of life savings and pensions, modernize federal lending, underwriting, and procurement, and reduce risk of climate change to the federal budget.