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 me, Ben Husch Husch (email@example.com), or my colleague Kristen Hildreth (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we will point you in the right direction.
Department of Interior Disburses $252 Million to Gulf States for Coastal Restoration and Conservation
The Department of Interior’s (DOI) Office of Natural Resources Revenue distributed over $252 million in fiscal year 2021 energy revenues to the four offshore Gulf oil and gas producing states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The funds, disbursed annually based on offshore oil and gas revenue, can be used to support coastal conservation and restoration projects, hurricane protection programs, onshore infrastructure projects, and activities to implement marine and coastal resilience management plans. The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) of 2006 created a revenue-sharing model for oil- and gas-producing Gulf states to receive a portion of the revenue generated from offshore oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico. The act also directs a portion of revenue to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This is the second-largest disbursement since it began in 2009, and since GOMESA’s passage over $1.26 billion has been distributed to the coastal states.
FERC Takes Major Step in Developing New Electric Transmission Infrastructure
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a proposed rule that would, if finalized, update the rules covering transmission lines on the U.S. power grid in an effort to increase rate of growth in renewable energy as well as implement a new design for cost sharing of new transmission lines. State utility commissions would have to approve any cost allocation methods used to determine who pays for regional transmission projects. Relatedly, FERC Chair Richard Glick stated the commission should consider establishing an independent monitor to help oversee the build-out of the power grid and protect consumers.
Council on Environmental Quality Releases NEPA Phase 1 Final Rule
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published a final rule completing the first stage of rulemaking to revise certain provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act’s implementing regulations. In 2020, the previous administration overhauled the NEPA implementing regulations for the first time since their inception in 1978, which the Biden administration is reversing in a two-step review process. This final rule restores three key provisions back to the prior regulations—considerations relevant to the development of the “purpose and need” of a proposed action; the definition of “effects,” restoring the prior definitions of direct, indirect, and cumulative effects; and agency flexibility to develop NEPA implementation procedures that go beyond the government-wide NEPA regulations.
DOE Seeks Feedback from States on New Formula Grant in Infrastructure Law
The Department of Energy (DOE) formally released a request for information on how to implement the new $2.3 billion formula grant program for states included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs act (IIJA) to improve the all-hazards resilience of their electric grid against wildfires, extreme weather and other natural disasters. Later this year, the DOE plans to allocate funding annually through grants to states according to a formula that includes such parameters as population, land area and the historical precedence for experiencing disruptive events as well as a required application to the DOE. State by state allocations can be found here. Relatedly, DOE is also proposing to help spur investment in new electric transmission lines by buying capacity on the lines in order to provide their investors with certainty of a financial return.
USDOT Unveils New Program Formula Road Program for States
The Federal Highway Administration released guidance and other details for the new state Carbon Reduction Program (CRP) that will provide nearly $6.5 billion through formula grants to states for projects aimed at reducing emissions from the transportation sector. The program will fund a wide range of projects designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from on-road highway sources. Under the CRP, states must also develop carbon reduction strategies in consultation with Metropolitan Planning Organizations to identify projects and strategies tailored to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in their states, although states and localities may begin using the CRP funds even before plans are developed and reviewed. States should be aware that about two-thirds of the funds it receives are required to be sub-allocated to local governments based on population, though the remaining one-third is up to states. Projects do require a 20% state share.
USDA Announces $800 Million in Climate-Smart Infrastructure
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an investment of nearly $800 in funding for 165 projects to expand access to safe water and/or clean energy for people living in disadvantaged communities in 40 states, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands.
HHS Releases $385 Million Funding to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to States
The Department of Health and Human Services is releasing $385 million to states to assist low-income households with paying their energy bills via the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides funding to states to help low-income households with energy costs. In addition, $4.5 billion for LIHEAP was included in the American Rescue Plan and $100 million was released by HHS as part of a five-year, $500 million investment included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Interior Forced to Withhold Water to Protect Lake Powell
The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation announced it would withhold water from several Western states in 2022 to prevent the reservoir in Lake Powell from dropping so low that it could no longer produce electricity. The withheld water represents a 6.4% cut to the annual water delivered from Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico through Lake Powell to Lake Mead, which provides water to millions of people in the Lower Colorado River Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada. The measures are part of a drought contingency plan the Bureau of Reclamation adopted in 2019 and were agreed to by each of the seven Colorado River Basin states April.
White House Releases New Strategy for Countering Wayward Drones
The White House released a new plan for addressing unmanned aircraft systems threats. Through the Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan, the administration is attempting to expand where protection can be provided, who is authorized to take action, and how it can be accomplished lawfully. The plan seeks to achieve this legitimate expansion while safeguarding the airspace, communications spectrums, individual privacy, civil liberties and civil rights. To achieve this balance, the administration is putting forward legislation to accomplish the recommendations included in the plan.
EPA Updates Water Pollution Discharge Permitting for PFAS and Announces New Testing
In line with its strategic roadmap released October 2021, EPA announced new measures to help manage PFAS chemicals including publishing a memo outlining how the agency will use its Clean Water Act authorities to reduce PFAS discharges via permitting authority through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program; announcing new aquatic life criteria for PFAS and the chemicals impacts on freshwater organisms; and a new method to screen for carbon-fluorine bonds, including PFAS, in water samples.
EPA Proposes Require Comprehensive Reporting on Asbestos
EPA released a proposed rule which would require comprehensive reporting on asbestos, mandating that manufacturers and processors report use and exposure information to the agency. Last month, EPA released a proposed rule to prohibit ongoing uses of chrysotile asbestos, currently imported into the U.S. and used in sheet gaskets, break blocks, and aftermarket automotive breaks and linings.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Updates
For a summary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, visit NCSL’s webpage. Updates on related-agency actions are broken down below by policy topic:
The White House released updated guidance documents for federal agencies covering both improved infrastructure permitting practices for projects funded through the IIJA as well as guidance for federal agencies for reducing the impacts of waste, fraud, and abuse for projects funded through the IIJA.
DOE Announces $3 Billion for Motor Vehicle and Storage Batteries
DOE announced the availability of $3.1 billion in funding from the infrastructure law aimed at increasing manufacturing capacity and supply chains for motor vehicle and storage batteries as well as their components.
Department of Interior Announces Funding via IIJA for Aging Water Infrastructure
DOI announced an investment of $240.4 million for infrastructure repairs in fiscal year 2022 via the IIJA. The funding, facilitated through the Bureau of Reclamation, includes significant repairs on canal linings, dam spillways and water pipeline replacements. Among the 46 projects selected for funding are large projects to conduct canal repairs in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming, dam spillway repairs in Kansas, pipeline repairs in Utah and investments in a pumping plant in Montana. Projects in Colorado, Oregon and Washington are also being funded.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, at the behest of many groups including NCSL, published a schedule for upcoming grant announcements due to the significant number of new grants and changes to existing grants that were included in the federal infrastructure bill. Read more.
FAA Provides First Round of Funds for Air Traffic Control System
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) provided the first $1 billion of $5 billion it received into the country’s air traffic control system, which includes hundreds of towers at airports and terminal approach control facilities, which provide air traffic services to aircraft approaching and leaving busy airspace.
- USDA Accepts 2 million Acres in Conservation Reserve Program Sign Up. Read more
- White House launches a “Rural Partners Network” aimed at empowering rural communities in accessing federal resources. Read more
- Department of Commerce announces $144 million in fishery disaster funding between 2018 and 2021. Read more
- USDA provides $50 million in assistance via the new Cotton and Wool Apparel program due to a drop in demand for dress clothing amid the pandemic. Read more
- Energy Department To Begin Refilling Strategic Reserve, Providing Producers With Future Demand. Read more
- DOI Secretary Deb Holland testifies at House Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing saying “no decisions have been made” to hold additional offshore oil and gas lease sales via the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Read more
- DOE proposes new energy efficiency standards in over 20 years for water heaters in commercial buildings, and issued new light bulb standards.
- Bureau of Land Management reduces area available for new drilling in Alaska. Read more
- Senate confirms Kathryn Huff to lead DOE’s Nuclear Energy office. Read more
- Temporary Emergency Waiver for Year-Round Sale of E-15 Issued. Read more
- EPA Released Draft Policy Assessment for Reconsideration of NAAQS for Ozone. Read more
- Government Accountability Office releases two reports on DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, one on nuclear waste and the need for leadership stability and one on the status of environmental cleanup.
- DOI announces $61 million in grant funding via the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program to increase outdoor access in urban spaces. Read more
- Federal Highway Administration Approves Use of Drones for Bridge Inspections. Read more
- FMCSA and NHTSA reissue a proposal to install devices to limit speeds of commercial vehicles. Read more
- FMCSA revives rulemaking Impacting State Programs that Oversee Commercial vehicle inspections. Read more
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next month to fill you in on other pressing federal news!
Kristen and Ben