House and Senate Approps Both Act on EPA Funding

This was a busy week on Capitol Hill.  Both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees marked up their respective funding allocations for the FY 16 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies measure that funds EPA.  For the Senate, this was the first time in six years that such a markup has taken place.
The House agreed to fund EPA at $7,422,157,000.  This is $1.169 billion less than the Administration’s requested amount for FY 16 and $538.8 million less than Congress appropriated last year.  As of this writing, the Senate has not released drafts of either the spending measure or the accompanying report language but ASDWA understands that $7.6 billion is the overall funding level for the Agency in the Senate bill.  Beyond that figure, no specific program funding details are as yet available.  The House, however, had drafts of both bill and report language available for review, as summarized below.
House Details:
As reported earlier to ASDWA members, under the House bill, the DWSRF is slated to receive $757M, the PWSS grant would be funded at $101.9M, and $2.2M is made available in FY 16 and again in FY 17 to help with EPA staffing and structure needs as the WIFIA program is developed.
Within the Science & Technology Account ($704.9M), the House Committee provided funds to be directed toward research initiatives ($4.1M), including a new competitive award for a nationally scoped “Intelligent Water Systems” project.
The Environmental Programs & Management Account ($2.472 billion) contains language once again that funds a competitive grants program for training and technical assistance for small water systems but reserves $1.7M of the overall $12M award for technical assistance for individual private well owners.  The House Appropriations Committee also signaled support (but no specific funding) for a coordinated Federal approach to addressing algal blooms, including EPA’s collaboration with NASA, NOAA, and USGS to develop an early warning indicator system.  EPA would also be directed to evaluate whether the Great Lakes Federal Interagency Task Force should designate a coordinator to work with Federal, state, tribal, and local governments.  Also under this program account, the House Committee requires EPA to develop a policy statement on science quality and integrity that shall be adhered to by the Science Advisory Board (SAB) and all Board members.  The language further requires that EPA’s policies shall include not less than 10 percent of membership on the Board from states and tribes who are often underrepresented.
Under the State & Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG) Account, the House Committee spoke to the issue of Infrastructure Assistance, saying, “The Committee has appropriated nearly $25 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure assistance since 2009, and notes that $6 billion is ‘revolving’ and available for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects in fiscal year 2015 from appropriated funds, state match contributions, loan repayments, and interest…The Committee believes that EPA and the states must expeditiously allocate existing funds to projects in order to address the pressing infrastructure needs facing the country…the Committee continues to encourage EPA and water infrastructure stakeholders to promote alternate financing mechanisms…Public-private partnerships, greater access to financing from private activity bonds, and improved asset management are just a few of the mechanisms that the Committee believes could serve to increase investment in a complementary way to Federal appropriations and reduce costs.”
In discussing the Committee’s history related to use of American-made iron and steel products when used in products financed by the SRFs (and now WIFIA), the draft Committee Report language states, “The Committee clarifies the intent that iron and steel products that are substantially transformed in the United States shall be considered ‘produced in the United States’ for the purpose of water infrastructure projects.”
Neither the House nor Senate Appropriations Committees has signaled when the funding measures may come to either of their respective Floors for final debate and votes.