Federal Water Tap, July 24: House Republicans Pass Big Cuts for Water Infrastructure Loan Fund

The Rundown

  • House Republican budget would cut main water infrastructure loan funds by more than half and further handcuff them via earmarks.
  • House Republican budget also promises substantial cuts to the EPA.
  • CDC summarizes state data on illnesses from harmful algal blooms.
  • EPA hosts a webinar on wildfire effects on drinking water sources.
  • Biden administration releases details on $14 billion in financing for low-carbon technology.
  • EPA proposes strengthening its CAFO permit in Idaho as a result of a court ruling.

And lastly, the Bureau of Land Management proposes changes to mining laws to protect water and land (and taxpayers) from abandoned oil and gas wells.

“It’s imperative that strong bonding reforms make it through the rulemaking process intact. The Interior Department just announced it will spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars cleaning up oil and gas wells abandoned by irresponsible companies. This can never happen again. Drillers must post bonds sufficient to clean up after themselves the next time an oil boom inevitably goes bust.” — Rachael Hamby, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities, about the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed changes to mining laws to prevent the public from assuming the cost of cleaning up oil and gas wells.

By the Numbers

117: Human illnesses due to harmful algal blooms in 2021. The data counts illnesses that 16 states reported to the CDC from 368 toxic blooms. The CDC cautions that the data are not complete and most likely undercount the actual burden of illness. Data reporting is voluntary and individuals might not seek medical care for symptoms like vomiting.

In context: Danger Looms Where Toxic Algae Blooms

$880 Million: Earmark funding requests for water infrastructure projects in the House Appropriations Committee’s 2024 budget for the EPA and Interior. Water industry groups are worried that these earmarks are being taken from the money allocated to the state revolving funds, the main federal funding vehicle for water and sewer infrastructure.

The GOP-led House budget further diminishes the state revolving funds, which would be cut from $2.7 billion to $995 million. The earmarks will be taken out of this amount, leaving just $115 million for the revolving funds. This will impair the ability of states to fund projects in the future because loan payments are recycled into new loans.

39 Percent: Amount by which the GOP-led House budget would decrease funding for the EPA.

News Briefs

Mining Law Reform
To reduce the risk of taxpayer-funded cleanups of abandoned oil and gas wells — which can pollute water, land, and air — the Bureau of Reclamation proposes to increase the amount of money that lease owners must submit before drilling on federally managed public lands.

The price of these bonds, in some cases, have not changed since the Eisenhower administration. In 2019, the Government Accountability Office determined that bond amounts were “insufficient” and transferred costs of remediation from mineral operators to the public.

Under the proposal the minimum price of one type of bond (lease bonds) could rise from $10,000 to $150,000.

Abandoned wells are a huge financial and environmental cost. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act included $4.7 billion for cleanup.

CAFOs in Idaho
The EPA proposes adding requirements to CAFO permits in Idaho to protect groundwater and rivers from polluted runoff.

The additions include monitoring pollutants in groundwater and monitoring the discharge of pollutants from manure applied to farmland. The revised permit would also prohibit applying manure in specific cases: to fields that are surface irrigated. Pollutants of concern include nutrients and pathogens.

The permit revisions are a result of a lawsuit brought by Snake River Waterkeeper and Food and Water Watch, which claimed the initial permit was too weak.

Public comments are being accepted through September 1 via epar10wd-npdes@epa.gov.

Studies and Reports

Clean Energy Financing…For Water
The Biden administration is developing new ways of financing a low-carbon society. The EPA recently released more details on one such venture, the $14 billion National Clean Investment Fund (NCIF).

The work to identify individuals, businesses, and local government to receive financing will be done via intermediaries. The EPA is accepting applications through October 12 for two or three national nonprofits to fill this role.

Many, many types of projects will be eligible for financing. One type of water project mentioned explicitly in the application documents is water efficiency for apartments and other multi-family housing.

NCIF will be subject to Justice40 parameters, which means 40 percent of the benefits going to low-income and disadvantaged communities.

On the Radar

Colorado River Management Post-2026
Today, the Bureau of Reclamation will hold the third and final meeting to gather public input on how the Colorado River should be managed after 2026, when current guidelines expire.

Reclamation is in the scoping process for post-2026, meaning it wants feedback on issues to consider as it prepares its environmental assessment.

The meeting begins at 5:00 p.m. Pacific. Register here.

Wildfire and Drinking Water Webinar
On July 25, the EPA will host a webinar about how wildfire contaminates water used as a source of drinking water.

Register here.

Climate Change and Infrastructure Hearing
On July 26, the Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on the fiscal consequences of climate change for infrastructure.

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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