NRI Standing Committee Newsletter | July 28, 2021

7/28/2021

ncsl newsletter

Below you will find some of the latest agriculture, energy, environment and transportation policy issues we are following in Washington, D.C. If you have questions about any of the stories below, please reach out to either myself, Ben Husch (ben.husch@ncsl.org), or my colleague Kristen Hildreth (kristen.hildreth@ncsl.org) and we will point you in the right direction.

Top Stories

Senators Continue Negotiations to Turn Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework into Legislative Text

A bipartisan group of senators, large enough to overcome a filibuster, continues to work toward turning their nearly $1 trillion framework agreement into legislative text. Members have expressed optimism they are close to a bill that could be released this week, followed by the start of formal debate and amendment offerings on the Senate floor. The package is likely to be based on a number of bills already approved at the committee level, including bills on highway and road funding (Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee), rail and roadway safety (Commerce Committee), clean and safe drinking water (EPW Committee), and energy infrastructure (Energy and Natural Resources Committee), and broadband funding. However, it remains unclear when and how a Senate package will be conferenced with the House. Stay tuned to NCSL for further updates, including our federal infrastructure update as part of Base Camp 2021.

Senate Committee Passes Energy Infrastructure Act

The Senate Energy and Commerce Committee passed the $100 billion Energy Infrastructure Act, 13-7. The bill, led by E&C Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), invests in the reliability and resilience of the electric grid, demonstrates clean energy technologies, invests in western water infrastructure, and mitigate wildfire risk, and clean up the abandoned energy infrastructure and mine lands. It is highly likely the Energy Infrastructure Act will serve as the legislative text for key portions of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, including power infrastructure, western water, resilience and abandoned mine lands and orphan wells.

House Set to Approve 2022 Appropriations, Senate Further Behind

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced that the chamber will take up the Agriculture (H.R. 4346), Energy and Water Development, Interior-Environment (H.R. 4372), and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills as part of a seven-bill minibus this week. Although these bills generally provide significant increases over current year spending, it remains unclear when and how Congress will adopt final spending levels as the Senate remains further behind the House. It is likely final levels will not be set until after Thanksgiving.

Federal Court Says Maui County Needs Federal Permit for Water Groundwater Discharge

The U.S. Court for the District of Hawaii ruled, following the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2020, that the county of Maui is required to obtain a federal National Pollutant Discharge Permit under the Clean Water Act in order to continue releasing pollutants at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility. The facility is only a half mile from the pacific and the pollutants had been shown to be travelling through groundwater into the ocean.

Agriculture

President Issues Executive Order Aimed at Improving Competition in Multiple Sectors

Biden issued an executive order aimed at improving competition across a wide range of industries and economic sectors as well as within the labor market itself. The full impact of the order is potentially quite significant, but much will depend on the extent federal agencies follow through on the direction provided by the order. Within the order the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is directed to undertake regulations that would allow the department to better intervene against anticompetitive practices by meat processors, assist farmers in bringing cases under antitrust law, and tighten the rules within the poultry grower industry. Biden also wants to help farmers fix their own equipment, commonly known as the right to repair, currently restricted by some manufacturers, especially when computer code is involved.

Relatedly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would offer $500 million in grants, loans and other assistance to help new meat and poultry processors enter the market, along with $150 million to support small plants that are already in operation. The department also announced it would move forward with a series of regulations to protect farmers and ranchers who work with large agribusinesses.

USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers Expanded to Include Timber and Euthanized Animals

The USDA announced that $200 million is available for timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses which experienced financial losses due to the pandemic. In order to qualify 50% or more of a business’s revenue must be derived from cutting timber, transporting, or processing wood on-site. The Farm Service Agency will plan on sending out two payments to approved applicants, the first equaling about $2,000. Relatedly, the USDA announced a $25 million investment in Alaska as part of a sustainability strategy and plans to end sales of large-scale old-growth timber in the Tongass National Forest following the reversal of the previous administration’s logging and construction rule.

Additionally, the USDA announced that farmers who euthanize livestock—hogs, chickens and turkeys—because of meat processing capacity during the pandemic can apply for federal aid for their losses. The USDA will pay 80% of the fair market value for the livestock, as well as the cost of depopulation and disposal.

USDA Authorized Emergency Procedures to Aid Drought Impacted Producers

The USDA authorized emergency procedures to aid agricultural producers impacted by extreme drought conditions. Its Risk Management Agency is working with crop insurance companies to streamline and accelerate the adjustment of losses and issuance of indemnity payments to crop insurance policyholders in impacted areas. The drought is impacting the West, Northern Great Plains, Caribbean and other areas, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration saying it could continue through the Fall. 

’Right to Repair’ Endorsed by the Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission unanimously voted to adopt a policy statement affirming the agency’s ability to target repair restrictions that violate antitrust law or amount to unfair or deceptive practices. Manufacturers in agribusiness, can make it difficult to obtain the parts necessary to repair, or void warranties if equipment is repaired by the owner instead of the manufacturer.

Energy

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) anticipates that growth in large-scale solar power capacity will outpace wind power expansion in 2022 for the first time ever. It’s anticipated that there will be 16 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic generating capacity added in the electric power sector in 2021 and an additional 17 GW in 2022, while wind generating capacity in the electric power sector is expected to grow by 17 GW in 2021 and by 6 GW in 2022. The EIA has attributed the slowdown in growth due to the expiration of the production tax credit.

Relatedly, the DOE forecast that domestic coal production would rise 15% in response to a growing domestic economy and supply problems in both Australia and Columbia. The U.S. produced 535 million tons of coal in 2020, a 24% decrease from 2019, continuing the steady decline in coal production over the past decade as the electric generation sector shifts toward natural gas and renewables.

DOE Sets Goal of Reducing Costs of Long-Term Energy Storage

The DOE set a goal—the Long Duration Storage Shot—to reduce the cost of grid-scale, long-duration energy storage by 90% within the decade. Long-duration storage is defined as systems that can store energy for more than 10 hours at a time, and the DOE’s initiative will consider all technology types that can hit that duration and cost reduction targets, including electrochemical, mechanical, thermal, chemical carriers. The DOE hopes the initiative will lead to the establishment of a U.S.-based storage manufacturing industry and create jobs, while also increasing local control of the power system and minimizing power grid disruptions.

Additional Cybersecurity Mandates for Fuel Pipelines Unveiled

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) announced a second security directive in response to the ongoing cybersecurity threat to pipeline systems which requires owners and operators of critical pipelines that transport hazardous liquids and natural gas to implement a number of urgently needed protections against cyber intrusions. The first was unveiled in May and requires critical pipeline owners and operators to report confirmed and potential cybersecurity threats to DHS’s  Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, in addition to designating a 24/7 Cybersecurity Coordinator. The action follows the April cybersecurity breach of the Colonial Pipeline which caused supply chain disruptions along the East Coast.

Additionally, the House of Representatives has passed two bipartisan bills surrounding cybersecurity in the energy space. The first—HR 3119—which would codify the authority of an assistant secretary of  DOE’s Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER) office, and a second—HR 2931—which would direct the Energy Department to coordinate with other federal agencies, state authorities and the electric industry to develop voluntary auditing methods to assess the physical security and cybersecurity of electric utilities. Versions of the bills are components of the Senate’s Energy Infrastructure Act which may be included as part of the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

DOE to Push State and Local Energy Efficient Building Code Adoption

At the DOE’s National Energy Codes Conference, Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the department would push state and local governments to adopt energy-efficient building codes, an announcement that comes as states and cities set their own climate goals. While the federal government has little authority over building codes, the department is looking to expand its technical assistance to aid states and localities in adopting standards set by private standard setting groups such as the International Code Council, including help with updating model energy codes, and workforce education and training to name a few.

Administration Awarding Funds to Evolving Coal Communities

The Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration is awarding $300 million to coal communities to aid in the transition from fossil fuels, and to diversify their economies. Of that total, $200 million in grants through Commerce’s Economic Adjustment Assistance Challenge would support a range of investments in coal communities, including broadband infrastructure, apprenticeship programs and revolving loan funds, while the other $100 million would fund a new Build Back Better Regional Challenge in which areas of the country reeling from coal’s downturn could win grants to fund regional development plans that would spark new industries, train workers or finance other aims.

FERC Provides Notice of Transmission Planning Rulemaking

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) to revise transmission planning and cost allocation rules. The ANPRM calls for comment on four major areas: developing transmission that links key geographic areas to load centers, increasing coordination between regions, whether the current model determining how transmission is paid for is reasonable and increased oversight on how transmission costs are passed along to customers. FERC Chair Rich Glick said 93% of the 750 gigawatts of generation waiting for approval by regional transmission organizations are from renewable sources, and facilitating development of new transmission would be key for deploying more renewables.

Environment

PFAS Action Act Passes House with Bipartisan Support

The House passed HR 2467241-183, which requires the Environmental Protection Agency to create a national drinking water standard for select per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—within two years. It also designates both chemicals as hazardous substances under the federal Superfund law and requires the EPA to determine whether or not to list other PFAS within five years, and designates both chemicals as hazardous air pollutants via the Clean Air Act within 180 days. Additionally, the bill would require the EPA to place limits on industrial discharge of the chemicals and authorizes $200 million annually to assist water utilities and wastewater treatment facilities. A previous version of the PFAS Action Act passed the House in January 2020 but stalled in the Senate under threat of veto by former President Donald Trump. Members of the Biden administration have already vowed to take action on PFAS. A companion bill has not yet been taken up in the Senate.

PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals not found naturally in the environment that have emerged as an issue of increasing interest to state legislatures and the federal government. PFAS are used in a wide range of products used daily—from cookware to rain jackets to pizza boxes—because they contain many properties such as the ability to repel dirt, water and grease. PFAS chemicals are extremely stable and persistent in the environment and in the human body, meaning they do not break down and can accumulate over time. According to the EPA, studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can impact reproductive and developmental systems, liver and kidney function and cause immunological effects in laboratory animals.

For more information on what states are doing to address PFAS, visit NCSL’s webpage here.

White House Releases Memo on Environmental Justice Goals

The Office of Management and Budget sent a memo to agencies and departments outlining what programs are covered by the president’s Justice40 initiative which is to ensure 40% of benefits from environmental, housing and transportation benefits flow to disadvantaged communities. The White House instructed agencies within 60 days to deliver a list of programs eligible for the Justice40 initiative and a description of the types of benefits they would generate, as well as develop a methodology for calculating those benefits within 150 days.

Office of Inspector General Says EPA Needs to Improve Oversight of Minor Source Emissions

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General found that the agency needs to improve its oversight of air emissions limits imposed on natural gas extraction facilities, and other sources to ensure they’re not emitting pollutants above the regulatory thresholds.

Thanks for reading! We will be back next this month to fill you in on other federal happenings.

Best,

Kristen and Ben

Additional Resources