WEF 2016 Legislative Year in Review

MA Newsletter Article from WEF Headquarters
February 2017
2016 Legislative Year in Review
Great accomplishments — with more changes in 2017
Steve Dye
The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Government Affairs Department spent a very busy 2016 advancing the WEF agenda before Congress and building a robust grassroots program for the future. Thank you to all WEF members who contributed to our fruitful efforts in 2016. We look forward to your continued participation in 2017.
Here are highlights of the many critical events and policy changes from the past year.
New President, new direction
The year ended with one of the most monumental (and unexpected) political events in the history of the U.S. with the election of Donald J. Trump as President. While what the future of a Trump presidency will mean for our nation is unclear, there are some early, clear indications of how his agenda may affect the water sector.
Mr. Trump spoke on the campaign trail about a massive infrastructure investment package, reforms to the tax code, and curtailing the reach of federal agencies on matters of regulation and oversight. In early December 2016, WEF wrote a letter to the then-President-Elect detailing WEF’s priorities and recommendations for our nation’s water policies. The key points in the letter were
  • advancing smart regulations and policies by using sound science and technical merit,
  • accelerating and expanding water infrastructure investment,
  • bolstering research and development to find solutions to pressing challenges in water,
  • developing high-skill construction and water sector jobs, and
  • ensuring local water systems are affordable and robust.
WEF also pledged to provide reliable and expert input to the next administration to help solve the nation’s water challenges. The full letter is available at http://bit.ly/wef-letter-to-trump.
WEF testifies before Congress on infrastructure funding bill
Despite admirable bipartisan efforts by some key members of Congress, for the last decade Congress has struggled to advance major legislation to expand funding resources for water infrastructure investments. While no far-reaching legislation was passed last year, several significant policies advanced deep into the legislative process, only to be cut from final bills. This set the table for 2017, which is expected to see a sizable infrastructure package. WEF contributed to these efforts on several levels.
In April 2016, WEF testified at a Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee hearing. Rudolph Chow, Baltimore Public Works Director and the new WEF Government Affairs Committee Chair, testified on behalf of WEF (an archived hearing webcast and a transcript of Chow’s testimony can be accessed at http://bit.ly/chow-testifies-to-senate). The Senate Committee heard the results of an analysis that the committee had requested WEF and the WateReuse Association (Alexandria, Va.) conduct. The results show the full economic benefits to the economy, job creation, and federal tax revenues from funding the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs.
The data show that
  • every dollar of SRF spending results in $0.93 of federal tax revenue;
  • each million dollars in SRF spending produces 16.5 jobs with an average salary of $60,000/year; and
  • every million dollars of SRF spending results in $2.95 million dollars in output for the U.S. economy.
Following the hearing, the Senate EPW Committee introduced its version of the 2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which cited the WEF/WateReuse report and called on Congress to increase SRF funding significantly. The final WRDA bill included a version of the Senate provision (further detailed below).
2016 Fly-In a success, setting the stage for 2017
WEF’s annual Washington, DC, fly-in event in April 2016 drew nearly 200 water professionals from across the nation to carry the message to Capitol Hill about the need for increased funding and support for water infrastructure. In addition to meeting with Congressional offices, attendees participated in regulatory briefings and roundtables with program directors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies. The fly-in event was part of Water Week organized by WEF and its partners.
Registration is open now for the 2017 National Water Policy Fly-In & Expo on March 21–22. Sign up to join hundreds of other water professionals to advocate before Congress for more funding and sound polices for water and water infrastructure. Registration and details are available at www.waterweek.us/nwpf.
Congress finishes 2016 with new funding for water infrastructure
As the 2016 calendar year drew to a close, Congress took several actions benefitting water infrastructure investments. A Continuing Resolution that will fund the federal government through late April includes $20 million to start the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA). WIFIA is a new loan and loan guarantee program that WEF helped create. EPA estimates that the $20 million may provide more than $1 billion in credit assistance and may potentially finance more than $2 billion in new water infrastructure investments.
Organizations interested in applying for low-interest loans and loan guarantees have until April 10, 2017, to submit a Letter of Interest (LOI) to EPA, which issued a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) in the Federal Register on Jan. 10, 2017. Further details about WIFIA and the NOFA are available at www.epa.gov/wifia.
In addition, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which includes the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The bill authorizes port, waterway, flood protection projects, and drinking water and wastewater provisions.
While the WRDA authorizes mostly U.S. Corps of Engineer projects and programs, the WIIN Act also features WEF-supported provisions, including a Sense of Congress urging robust funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) programs. This provision is a result of the Senate version of the WRDA bill previously mentioned.
The WIIN Act contains provisions to assist the city of Flint, Mich., including authorization to allocate $170 million through the Drinking Water SRF program and grants to reduce lead in drinking water. The bill also includes a Sense of Congress to provide $20 million to Flint through the WIFIA program.
Sixty million dollars per year also are provided until FY 2021 to help small and disadvantaged communities reduce lead in drinking water at a cost share of 45%. In addition, the bill permits WIFIA loan applicants to finance fees for the loan application process. The bill also changes the WIFIA program to allow applicants to receive credit for any costs and in-kind contributions they incur prior to the loan award.
EPA advances CSO public notification in Great Lakes
In late December, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) implementing Section 425 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. This section requires EPA to work with the Great Lakes to establish public notification requirements for combined sewer overflow (CSO) discharges.
“This NPRM addresses signage, notification of local public health departments and other potentially affected public entities, notification to the public entities, notification to the public, and annual notice provisions for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permittees authorized to discharge from a CSO to the Great Lakes Basin,” EPA states on its website.
The rule affects NPDES permits within the Great Lakes watershed that include a CSO. The public comment period is open until March 14 (www.regulations.gov at Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2016-0376).
Water Advocates gain a new home
WEF launched a new online grassroots advocacy website last year to support the Water Advocates program. WEF members and water sector professionals can access the website at http://cqrcengage.com/wef/home for important legislative and regulatory matters and calls-to-action on issues affecting the water sector.
A number of grassroots tools on the site help WEF members engage with their elected officials. It’s easier than ever to become a WEF Water Advocate and receive notifications about legislative and regulatory issues and calls-to-action — visit http://cqrcengage.com/wef/wateradvocates.
A recent successful Water Advocates campaign led to nearly 200 emails and letters sent to Congress during final negotiations over the WRDA bill and Continuing Resolution.
With a newly elected President and the start of the 115th Congress, 2017 is shaping up to be a monumental year for the water sector. WEF will continue to push policies, regulations, and support that reflect the interests of its members. Your input and involvement is greatly appreciated as we work to advance the interests of water professionals before policymakers and the public.
Steve Dye is the legislative director at the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.).