Senate Confirms Environmental Nominees
The Senate has confirmed Radhika Fox to be Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) Office of Water. The Senate confirmed Fox’s nomination 55-43, and, in doing so, confirmed the first woman of color and first individual of Asian American descent to head the office. The Office of Water is responsible for managing water policy and regulatory decisions at USEPA, including addressing issues related to water quality, water contamination, ecosystem restoration, and watershed management and protection. Fox has been serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. Prior to her position at USEPA, Fox served as the CEO of the US Water Alliance, and at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, directing the policy and governmental affairs unit.
During her nomination hearing earlier this year, Fox stated that as Assistant Administrator, a top priority for her would be to “advance durable water solutions” and dedicate efforts to ensuring all communities have access to clean and safe water. The Office of Water is also involved in USEPA’s rewrite of the contentious Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule that outlines, under the Clean Water Act, federal jurisdictional authority over water bodies across the U.S. Fox stated during her nomination hearing that the goal for the WOTUS review is to create a rule that strikes a balance between the 2015 and 2020 rules and not subject to changes depending on the Administration. In a recent announcement, USEPA stated that they, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be repealing the 2020 WOTUS rule and rewriting the rule from scratch.
The Senate also confirmed Tommy Beaudreau to be Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior on a bipartisan vote of 88-9.
House Subcommittee Advances PFAS and Water Bills
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change advanced three bills addressing access to clean and reliable water services and Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination to the full committee in a markup this week. The bills were:
- R. 3291, Assistance, Quality, and Affordability Act of 2021
- R. 3293, Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2021
- R. 2467, PFAS Action Act of 2021
The subcommittee voted along party-lines to advance the three bills. For H.R. 3291 and H.R. 3293, Republican Members argued that Congress has already authorized and appropriated significant funding to assist communities and utilities maintain and upgrade water systems and services, and that it is fiscally unsound to continue to authorize further funding. Democrat Members countered Republican opposition cautioning of the consequential public health crises if Congress fails to deliver necessary assistance to ratepayers and water utilities. Follow the link below for a summary of the three bills.
H.R. 3293, would create permanent programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to assist low-income households to maintain access to drinking water and wastewater services by helping ratepayers pay service bills. The subcommittee approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute offered by the bill’s sponsor, Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), that authorized $4 billion in funding to both drinking water and wastewater programs. Additionally, the legislation would do prioritize utilities that:
- Are subject to a Clean Water Act Consent Decree
- Have customers that have cost increases of 30% or more during the last three years
- Develop programs for low-income ratepayers
- Provide matching funds for the grant
H.R. 2467, the PFAS Action Act of 2021, is the comprehensive PFAS package sponsored by Representative Debbie Dingell (D-MI) that, among the various provisions, includes the directive to USEPA to designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous under CERCLA within two years of the bill’s enactment and to determine whether to designate all PFAS chemicals as hazardous under CERCLA within 5 years of the bill’s enactment. There was no discussion as to how making such a designation would impact the landuse application of biosolids. The bill was advanced along a party-line vote of 16-7, with all Republican Members disapproving of the legislation. Republican members emphasized their desire to address PFAS contamination, but argued that solutions should be based on science and, if enacted, H.R. 2467’s provisions will supersede ongoing activities at USEPA to make regulatory determinations of the chemicals. Democrats argued that efforts to address PFAS contamination cannot be delayed further, and that Congress must take decisive action to address and resolve PFAS contamination. The bill’s other provisions include:
- Designating PFOA and PFOS as hazardous air pollutants within 180 days and requires USEPA to determine whether to list other PFAS within 5 years
- Requiring USEPA to place discharge limits on industrial releases of PFAS and provides $200 million annually for wastewater treatment
- Prohibiting unsafe incineration of PFAS wastes and places a moratorium on introduction of new PFAS into commerce
- Requiring comprehensive PFAS testing
- Creating voluntary label for PFAS in cookware
Finally, H.R. 3291 would provide federal assistance to water systems, focusing primarily on drinking water needs, to address issues related to ratepayer debts, PFAS contamination, and replacing lead service lines. Specifically, the bill would authorize a total of $105 billion in funding assistance, of which $53 billion would go to support the Drinking Water SRF, $45 billion to support replacement of every lead service line and $5 billion to assist utilities with PFAS contamination. The bill would also authorize $4 billion in emergency relief to provide forgiveness to utility customers facing debt for unpaid fees since March 1, 2020.
House Passes Resolution to Begin Fiscal Year 2022 Spending Bill Development
Last week, the House passed, along party-lines, a “deeming resolution” that sets a top-line spending limit of $1.506 trillion and includes cap adjustments for disaster relief and wildfire suppression. The funding amounts to a 9% boost over the current fiscal year. The $1.5 trillion will be distributed between the appropriations subcommittees and allow appropriators to begin drafting fiscal year (FY) 2022 spending bills ahead of markups later this month and in early July. Congress has until October 1 to pass FY2022 spending bills before the new fiscal year starts. Read more in the committee’s press release here.