Federal Water Tap, July 6: House Passes Huge $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Bill

The Rundown

The House approves a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package. The House climate change committee releases its blueprint for a clean energy economy. Federal agencies indicate they will prepare environmental reviews of a sediment diversion project in Louisiana and a contested copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota. Oregon Democrats introduce a Western water conservation and infrastructure bill in the Senate, while a Pennsylvania representative wants a plan to help communities in the Ohio River basin respond to climate change. BPA eliminates a rate surcharge that will save money for electric utilities in the Pacific Northwest. And lastly, the Department of Energy looks to fund projects that capture energy from water and wastewater treatment.

“[The Moving Forward Act] is a down payment on an America for our children and our grandchildren because a living, breathing great nation invests in its future. Today, we are doing exactly that.” — Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) speaking about the infrastructure bill that the House passed.

“So naturally, this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate. It will just join the list of absurd House proposals that were only drawn up to show fealty to the radical left.” — Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the majority leader, responding to the House’s passage of an infrastructure bill that he described as “pointless political theater.”

By the Numbers

$20 million: Funding available for developing and testing technologies that can recover energy from water and wastewater treatment. That includes recovering heat, chemicals, and using the power of moving water. (Department of Energy)

$39 million: Amount that electric utilities in the Pacific Northwest will save due to a decision by a regional wholesaler in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Bonneville Power Administration will eliminate a rate surcharge that will save utilities $9 million for the remaining three months of fiscal year 2020 and $30 million in 2021. The surcharge is designed to boost cash reserves, but with utilities struggling financially during the pandemic because of lower power demand, BPA decided to extend its support. (BPA)

News Briefs

House Vote on Moving Forward Act
The House of Representatives approved a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, but the Moving Forward Act faces firm opposition from Republicans in the Senate.

The 2,309-page bill is an overwhelming buffet. Highlights for water include:

  • Reauthorizing the Clean Water State Revolving Fund at $8 billion a year over five years, approximately five times higher than funding that was appropriated this year.
  • Gradually increasing the authorization for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative from $300 million a year to $475 million a year by 2026.
  • $4.5 billion a year over five years for lead pipe replacement.
  • Increasing the authorization for Title XVI water recycling program from $50 million to $500 million.
  • $750 million for groundwater and surface water storage projects in the western states.

The bill faces a tough path ahead, however.

Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the bill the “Speaker’s Partisan Green Infrastructure Wish List” and added concerns about how the bill would be paid for. “It’s reckless to push such a massive bill that relies so heavily on more deficit spending without providing any reforms to reduce costs.”

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, called the bill “pointless political theater,” while the White House said it would issue a veto.

Western Water Bill
Oregon’s senators, both Democrats, introduced legislature that would authorize several water conservation, infrastructure, and restoration programs for communities in the American West.

The Water for Conservation and Farming Act would establish a fund within the Bureau of Reclamation for water reuse, conservation, and dam safety repairs. The bill sets aside $300 million a year for the fund.

The bill also expands the entities that are eligible for the WaterSmart program, authorizes $150 million a year over three years for habitat restoration, and authorizes $25 million a year over six years for fish passage projects.

Ohio River Basin Climate Change Bill
Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) introduced a bill that would require federal agencies to prepare a plan for helping communities in the Ohio River basin respond to climate change.

Studies and Reports

House Climate Action Plan
House Democrats released their climate plan, noting throughout the connection between water and climate change, water and energy systems.

The policy proposals are sometimes very rough outlines — “Congress should establish new standards for water infrastructure resilience that account for climate impacts” or close exemptions for the oil and gas industry in the Clean Water Act — and sometimes quite specific, typically when referencing legislation that has already been introduced, such as the Water Justice Act, which, among other things, would establish a grant program for water and energy efficiency upgrades and increase water infrastructure funding.

Nonetheless, the scope of the plan is broad and comprehensive, touching on water storage; hydropower; energy used in treating, moving, and heating water; dam safety, levees, and natural flood-reduction systems; and wastewater from oil and gas operations.

The plan is also of the moment: it states that disproportionate burdens on poor and minority communities should be at the center of federal climate and environmental policy.

On the Radar

Minnesota Mine
The Bureau of Reclamation will prepare an environmental impact statement for a contested copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota.

The Twin Metals mine would operate within Superior National Forest for about 25 years.

The Obama administration, in 2016, decided not to renew mineral leases in about 234,000 acres of the national forest because of its proximity to Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The mine would be located about five miles from the wilderness area.

The Trump administration reversed that decision in 2018.

Minnesota announced that it will conduct its own environmental review.

Louisiana Land-Building
The Army Corps of Engineers will prepare an environmental impact statement for a project that aims to prevent land erosion along Louisiana’s coast.

The Mid-Breton Sediment Diversion will shunt water — and the sediment it carries — away from the Mississippi River and into the Breton Sound basin, where, it is hoped, the sediment will sustain coastal wetlands that are eroding.

Meetings to determine the scope of the review will be held virtually. They have not yet been scheduled.

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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