House Committee Advances WRDA 2020
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure introduced the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA) (H.R. 7575). The bipartisan bill authorizes studies and construction of water resources development projects in consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), including the construction of all 34 pending USACE Chief’s Reports since 2018, 35 feasibility studies for water resources development projects, and expedites the completion of 41 feasibility studies currently under review at USACE. This year’s WRDA includes a heightened focus on addressing and prioritizing the water resources needs of economically disadvantaged communities.

The bill received bipartisan praise from all committee members, and, following a marathon markup, the committee favorably reported out the bill, as amended, by voice vote. Many amendments were ultimately withdrawn or rejected in order to keep the bill bipartisan and avoid controversial provisions. The committee did approve an amendment from Representative Scott Perry (R-PA) that would require USACE projects to be built with American-made steel. However, Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) noted that if this requirement proves to be too problematic, an exemption process could be established during the House and Senate conference over the bill.

The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote, which is expected during the week of July 27. Once the House passes H.R. 7575, the House and Senate will enter into conference negotiations to agree to a compromise WRDA bill.  The Senate reported out its WRDA bill, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020, in May.

View the legislation here.

Trump Administration Unveils NEPA Update
The Administration has finalized its update of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting process, streamlining its review and scope in an effort to speed up the permitting process for infrastructure projects. Upon its unveiling, the Administration stated the updated NEPA will help the country’s economy to rebound following the devastating impacts from the recent COVID-19 crisis. Critics of the  NEPA update have pledged to challenge the changes in court.

The updated NEPA:

  • Shortens timelines for conducting environmental reviews.
  • Reduces the need to consider the effects of climate change during environmental reviews.
  • Establishes deadlines for NEPA permit decisions, such as requiring that environmental impact statements are to be completed within two years and environmental assessments within one year.
  • Establishes a process for a lead federal agency to head NEPA reviews rather than independent reviews by multiple agencies.

Reviews would no longer have to assess “cumulative” project effects on the environment.  Instead, reviews would ask for assessment of “reasonably foreseeable” and “causally  related” effects and impacts.

2021 Energy-Water Development Bill Advances
The House Committee on Appropriations reported out the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies appropriations bill on a partisan vote of 30-21.  The Energy-Water Development bill funds the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers (USACE) and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (USBR) water infrastructure programs. Ahead of the markup, the committee released its report on the spending bill, detailing specific programmatic funding allocations. The bill now heads to the House floor for debate and a vote. House leadership has yet to announce when the bill will be brought to the floor, but they have stated their desire to finish FY2021 appropriations by the end of July. Below is a selected summary of the funding allocations for key water infrastructure assistance programs.

  • USBR appropriated $1.6 billion, of which $1.5 billion for USBR Water and Related Resources activities.
  • Water storage projects provided $79 million. Not less than $15 million will be to support ongoing groundwater treatment and remediation activities and to match non-federal funds for similar projects.
  • WaterSMART provided $60 million.
  • USBR basin studies funded at $2 million.
  • Drought Responses and Comprehensive Drought Plans appropriated $5 million.
  • Cooperative Watershed Management provided 4.25 million.
  • $63.6 million for Title XVI Program, of which $11.79 million is for projects under Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN)
  • Central Valley Project funded at $55.8 billion.
  • California Bay Delta Restoration appropriated $33 billion.
  • Science and Technology research and development activities funded at $11 million.
  • Desalination and Water Purification Program funded at $24 million.