Federal Water Tap, February 13: The Budget and Infrastructure

A few choice items have already trickled out or were set in deals made months ago, but today President Barack Obama will submit his fiscal year 2013 budget to Congress. We’ll have all the water details here, once the complete document lands.

Afterward, the budget debate moves to the east end of the National Mall for Congressional hearings. On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee will discuss the Interior Department’s appropriation with Sec. Ken Salazar.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will convene on Thursday for a hearing on the Department of Energy’s 2013 budget. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, will testify.

The National Journal reports that, in the wake of a few loan guarantees gone bust, the president may shift spending for clean energy programs from the Energy Department to the Defense Department.

Sewer Infrastructure
Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said he will introduce a bill to help communities pay for improvements to wastewater infrastructure. The Clean Water Affordability Act would provide $1.8 billion in grants over five years. It would also extend the repayment period for federal loans for water projects from 20 years to 30, and it would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prioritize water quality improvements according to their cost effectiveness.

A similar bill was introduced last year in the House by Ohio Republican Robert Latta. It has not been acted on.

Infrastructure Spending
While those bills sit, the Senate actually moved ahead with a measure that would boost private-sector investment in water infrastructure. According to Bloomberg BNA, the Finance Committee, as part of a transportation bill, included a provision to lift the volume cap on private activity bonds for water and wastewater projects. These are bonds with tax-free interest that are issued for a private development that has a public benefit. The bill would allow more such bonds to be issued.

Rural Infrastructure
The Bureau of Reclamation selected six water supply projects in rural parts of the western U.S. to receive a combined $30 million in federal funding. Another $20 million was handed out for environmental restoration, water conservation studies, fisheries management and infrastructure repairs.

New months, same story. That’s the precipitation prognosis for the southern tier of the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s spring drought outlook. Through the end of April, NOAA scientists foresee “persistent or intensifying drought conditions” in the south and southwest, with “no relief in sight for Texas.”

The short-term outlook is no better. The U.S. Drought Monitor, which is updated weekly, shows much of the Texas panhandle and southern Georgia in “exceptional” drought.

An official from the federal agency investigating last year’s pipeline oil spill in a Montana river said that companies need to consider environmental changes when building the pipelines, according to the Billings Gazette. Erosion, floods and land subsidence can all cause a line to rupture, said Chris Hoidal, of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Keystone XL
The State Department’s internal watchdog released a report on its investigation into the permitting process for the Keystone XL pipeline. The report was requested in October 2011 by several members of Congress.

The Office of the Inspector General found no illegal acts in the permitting process. It did recommend that the State Department should hire a person within the bureau handling the pipeline permit who has experience with environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act. It also recommended changing policies for third-party contractors to make potential conflicts of interest more transparent.

Reviving the Nuclear Family
Despite a dissenting vote from its chairman, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the nation’s first new nuclear reactors in more than three decades, Reuters reports. Southern Company will build two new reactors at an existing plant in eastern Georgia.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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