Federal Update:
Agriculture & Energy Committee
Environment Committee

 Updated January 7, 2010

Continuing Resolution Runs Out March 4

On December 22, 2010, the President signed into law the latest Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by Congress that will fund government programs through March 4, 2011 (Public Law No: 111-322). This was the fourth CR to be enacted since Congress failed to complete action on any of the annual appropriations bills for fiscal year 2011. The CR funds the federal government and most state-federal discretionary programs of the government at FY 2010 levels. This CR includes a provision that provides additional funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to obligate the same amount for LIHEAP that was obligated for this period during the last fiscal year. This amount is estimated to be roughly $4 billion, or 80 percent of the total FY 2010 appropriation. As the 112th Congress convenes they will need to bring the FY2011 process to a close at the same time as they begin to look ahead toward FY 2012.
Tax Bill Includes Extension of Some Energy Provisions

On December 17, President Obama signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (Public Law No: 111-312). The broad $859 billion tax bill included the temporary extension of several energy provisions through 2011. The legislation included a one-year extension of the Treasury grant program established under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that provides cash grants for qualified renewable energy projects in lieu of tax credits. The legislation also provided a one-year extension of a $1-per-gallon production tax credit for biodiesel as well as diesel fuel created from biomass; a credit for manufacturers of energy-efficient residential homes; a 50-cent-per gallon alternative fuel tax credit; the existing per-gallon tax credits and outlay payments for ethanol; credits for U.S.-based manufacture of energy-efficient washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators; certain credit for energy-efficient improvements to existing homes; and a 30 percent investment tax credit for alternative vehicle refueling property.

President Signs FDA Food Modernization Act January 4

After returning from his winter vacation, the president on January 4 signed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Modernization Act, which will bring sweeping changes to food safety in the country. The new law gives the FDA expanded authority over 80 percent of the nation’s food supply by giving the agency mandatory recall power and expanded access to food safety records. The new legislation will also require the FDA to increase the frequency of inspections of food processing facilities. Also in the legislation is a requirement for growers and manufacturers to implement food safety plans. All imported food will also be required to meet these standards.

Questions remain about funding the implementation of the legislation with the new fiscally conscious House. As the bill’s $1.4 billion over five years price tag has not yet been funded, it will be up to congressional appropriators to determine at what level they will fund the new legislation, which will be an important factor in the overall effectiveness of the measure.

Diesel Emissions Reduction Act Reauthorized

Late in the lame duck session of Congress legislation to reauthorize the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) was unanimously approved by both the Senate and House and signed into law by the president on January 4. Originally created in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the DERA provides grants to state, local and tribal governments for programs to reduce diesel emissions by upgrading and modernizing older diesel engines and equipment. H.R. 5809 authorizes $100 million annually for DERA in fiscal years 2012-2016 subject to annual appropriations. NCSL has been an active supporter of the program since its creation and adopted new policy language calling for the reauthorization of DERA at the 2010 NCSL Legislative Summit in Louisville.

Stormwater Fees

On January 4, the president signed into law legislation requiring the federal government to pay local fees for stormwater management services. The legislation passed both the House and Senate by unanimous consent just prior Congress adjourning in December. S. 3481, sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), clarifies that reasonable service charges, as outlined in section 313 the Clean Water Act, include fees or assessments for the purpose of stormwater management. The legislation was amended during Senate consideration to state that such fees should be based on some fair approximation of the proportionate contribution of the federal property or facility to stormwater pollution in the local area and that the fees are to be used to pay or reimburse the costs of any stormwater management program that manages a combination of stormwater and sanitary waste. This includes the full range of program and structural costs of collecting stormwater , reducing pollutants in stormwater , and reducing the volume and rate of stormwater discharge, regardless of whether that reasonable fee, charge, or assessment is denominated a tax, the amendment states.

Congressional action came in the wake of several cases where federal facilities were refusing to pay such fees and a determination by the General Accountability Office (GAO) that the fees were taxes that are subject to sovereign immunity claims and do not have to be paid. On December 2, NCSL along with the other organizations representing state and local elected officials sent a letter to House and Senate leadership urging the enactment of the legislation. View a copy of the letter at http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?TabId=21970.

New Congress Convened January 5, 2011

The 112th Congress convened on January 5 with a new Republican majority taking control in the House of representative (242 R-193 D). Among the first actions of the House was the election of Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) as the new Speaker of the House and the adoption of a new rules package. Senate Democrats maintain the majority with 53 seats compared with 47 for Republicans. One implication of the tighter margins in the Senate will likely be a change in the committee membership ratios which are still being negotiated and could also impact which members are selected for committee leadership roles. Overall, the freshman class of legislators being sworn in on the January 5 includes 96 new House members (87 Republicans and nine Democrats) and 13 new Senators (12 Republicans and one Democrat).

For questions or for more information, please email Tamra Spielvogel or Max Behlke or call 202.624.5400.