Below are some of the latest agriculture, energy, environment, and transportation policy issues we are following in Washington, D.C. Further, NCSL’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for States webpage is updated daily to reflect new information in policy areas ranging from education to health care, and so much more.
If you have questions about NCSL’s COVID-19 resources or any of the stories below, please reach out to me, Ben Husch (firstname.lastname@example.org), or my colleague Kristen Hildreth (email@example.com), and we will point you in the right direction.
NRI Federal Information Update
Join Us for NCSL Base Camp 2020
Though we could not meet in person in Indianapolis for the 2020 Legislative Summit, NCSL is bringing the state legislative community together for NCSL Base Camp 2020—where national thought leaders and policy experts join with states to map the way forward. The two sessions we want to highlight specifically for NRI committee members are below. Of course, NCSL will also have sessions on COVID-19, the economy, systemic racism, and this fall’s high-stakes elections. For a year unlike any other, you need a plan unlike any other. Welcome to NCSL Base Camp 2020. Registration is open.
The State-Federal Clash Over the Energy Mix
Electricity markets are evolving rapidly, with the federal government, states and regions taking a broad range of approaches to crafting the legal and regulatory frameworks under which markets and utilities operate. There is ongoing debate as to whether certain state efforts to promote clean energy and jobs yields economic development or creates imbalances and significant challenges for regional markets. Join us for this interactive discussion to learn about electricity markets, how recent federal decisions could impact state energy policies and what lies ahead for the U.S. energy mix.
Transportation: Predictions for 2021
Transportation is changing rapidly, but is how we fund, plan, and build transportation systems keeping up? Join our roundtable with nationally recognized transportation experts for a freewheeling discussion. We will tackle the looming federal transportation reauthorization, public-private partnerships, state funding innovations, project prioritization, changing travel and mobility patterns, the role of technology in safety and mobility, and much more.
Fall 2020 Energy, Environment and Transportation Webinar Series
In addition to NCSL Base Camp 2020, NCSL is pleased to present you with a Fall 2020 Energy, Environment and Transportation Webinar Series. In total there will be five webinars beginning tomorrow, Thursday August 27 and concluding October 22. NCSL webinars are collaborative, interactive, and easy to access. Most webinars will be recorded for those who are unable to attend the live meeting.
TODAY: Forever Chemicals? State and Federal Actions on PFAS
Manmade chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are cropping up in fertilizer, clothing, food, water and human bodies—and also in state legislatures, where debate over how to respond is mounting. Join us for an in-depth discussion about this relatively new environmental issue and what states and the federal government are doing to address it. Register Here!
EPA Finalizes Revisions to 2012 and 2016 Methane Rules
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled two new final rules regulating the emission of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas from oil and gas wells. The new rules significantly revise two existing rules from 2012 and 2016. The finalized rulemakings not only replace the previous standards for new petroleum infrastructure with less stringent rules for monitoring and preforming repairs to prevent leaks, but also eliminate direct federal methane restrictions that target volatile organic compounds, which are a precursor to smog. The two final rules are estimated to, over a 10-year period, increase methane emissions by 400,000 and 450,000 tons, respectively, but the net benefit of the rollback would be worth between $750 million and $850 million dollars. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler defended the agency’s actions stating, “[the]regulatory changes remove redundant paperwork, align with the Clean Air Act, and allow companies the flexibility to satisfy leak-control requirements by complying with equivalent state rules.” While several companies, including Shell, BP and ExxonMobil have expressed opposition to the changes, or support for direct methane regulations, the action is guaranteed to face litigation from environmental organizations.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Says Alaska’s Pebble Mine “Cannot be Permitted”
In a reversal of previous indications, it appears the federal government is moving to block the Pebble Mine in Alaska. In a newly released statement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) announced that the current proposal to build the Pebble Mine in Alaska "cannot be permitted” in its current form. The statement followed a letter from the Corps to the mine developers, which stated that they must undertake substantial environmental protection measures to offset "unavoidable adverse impacts...that would result in significant degradation" to aquatic resources from the proposed copper and gold mine. A pressure campaign from a few people in communication with the president, including the president’s son, highlighted concerns that the mine threatens the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which is commercially important and an increasingly popular destination for outdoor tourism. While a final decision is still forthcoming, the new mitigation requirements are seen as an early indication on the fate of the project. Further tipping the scales against the mine, both of Alaska's Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, said they support the Corps' conclusion that Pebble should not be issued its permits.
USDA Edits Eligibility Rules for Federal Commodity Programs That Provide Financial Aid for Farmers
Specifically, the rule would make first cousins, nieces and nephews of farm operators eligible to receive payments, a change required in the 2018 farm bill. However, the rule would also require anyone attempting to qualify for federal farm payments to provide either 25% of a farm’s total management hours on an annual basis or perform at least 500 hours of management annually. A recipient also has to provide the management on a “regular, continuous and substantial” basis. In a similar vein, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has paid $9.2 billion to farmers and ranchers stung by supply chain disruptions amid the pandemic, with half the funds going to livestock producers, mostly for cattle.
Related, USDA announced it has paid $9.2 billion to farmers and ranchers impacted by COVID-19. Farmers in Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota have received the largest shares.
DOJ, DHS, and FAA Issue Advisory Document on Current Federal Laws and Regulations Applying to Drones
In response to the growing demand by private entities and state and local governments for capabilities to detect and mitigate threats posed by Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations, the Department of Justice (DOJ), along with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an advisory guidance document regarding current federal laws and regulations that apply to their use. Such detection and mitigation authority, commonly referred to as counter-UAS (cUAS), was provided to federal agencies by Congress as part of the 2018 FAA reauthorization law. While states can request such capabilities from the federal government, such requests must come from the governor.
2020 Federal Highway Trust Fund Levels Remain Below 2019
The U.S. Department of Treasury reported that Federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) monthly revenues rose 0.5% in July 2020 compared to July 2019, reversing significant monthly declines this past May and June. However, 2020 federal HTF revenues remain 12% below 2019 levels. The HTF receives the majority of its revenue via a gas tax, and taxes on tires and heavy vehicles account for the rest.
Colorado River Water Rules Remain the Same for 2021
The Bureau of Reclamation announced that rules governing water deliveries for the Colorado River in 2021 will be the same as those governing them this year. Previously, there had been hopes for a boost to reservoir levels on the Colorado River after a wet winter but those were undone by a dry spring and summer. As such, voluntary delivery reductions agreed to by the states of Arizona, Nevada and California will remain a possibility, but more severe cuts will be staved off for at least another year. The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and about 5.5 million acres of cropland.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Approved for Drilling
The Department of Interior (DOI) approved a plan for leasing access to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s entire 1.56-million-acre coastal plain—an area the size of Delaware. However, it remains unclear exactly when the department will hold an auction though many expect it to be later this year. It is also unclear whether companies will bid on the territory, due to low crude prices and a significant downturn in fuel demand as a result of COVID-19. Under the 2017 tax overhaul Congress required DOI to sell drilling rights and facilitate development in the coastal plain by holding at least one auction of coastal plain oil leases before Dec. 22, 2021 and another by Dec. 22, 2024.
PHMSA Awards Nearly $100 Million to States
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) awarded more than $97 million in grants via its pipeline and hazardous materials safety programs. Specifically, $61 million was for Pipeline State Base Formula Grants to 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to support their participation in the federal-state pipeline safety program, as well as $20 million in Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness grants to all 50 states.
FHWA Publishes Rule to Ease Burdens on Expanding Broadband Technology
The Federal Highway Administration published a proposed rule seeking to improve the coordination in the use of highway rights-of-way to support construction of broadband infrastructure, known as a ‘dig-once’ rule. The goal is to expand the use of wireless broadband technology in rural America and to decrease repeat excavation for broadband installation.