With a New Congress, What’s Next for Drinking Water?

The closing days of the 115th Congress are rapidly approaching.  With a power shift to a Democrat majority House but a more solidified Republican majority in the Senate, what might 2019 look like for drinking water?

First things first.  By December 7, Congress must pass legislation to fund EPA along with several other Federal Agencies currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR).  The odds appear to be even as to whether Congress will act on the pending bill, develop omnibus legislation, or choose to put a long term CR into place.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that passing EPA’s FY 19 appropriations is one of his top two priorities for the remainder of this Congress.  In any case, the “kind of” good news is that the Agency would likely be level funded rather than see further cuts.

Speculation is high that House Democrats will spend the early part of 2019 focused on addressing the Administration’s deregulatory agenda and bringing climate change concerns back to the forefront.  Discussions on reinstating appropriations earmarks – a process banned since 2011 that allows individual members to add project-specific funding requests without additional vetting – is also high on their list.

It also remains to be seen whether Congress will fund the numerous authorizing provisions found in the recently passed America’s Water Infrastructure Act (PL 115-270). State drinking water programs are especially hopeful that funds will be appropriated to increase allocations for both the PWSS ($125 million) and the DWSRF ($1.17-$1.95 through FY 21).  States would also like to see the additional funding ($25M) for voluntary school and childcare lead testing programs; funding to support expanded UCMR monitoring ($15M, if needed, to cover EPA payment of reasonable lab costs or, otherwise, $10M); and the workforce support activities ($1M) be appropriated next year.  States also would like to see the $50M authorization for the WIFIA program be appropriated.