Below are 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 or NCSL’s coronavirus (COVID-19) resources, 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
President-elect Biden Announces Agency Transition Teams
President-elect Joe Biden released the list of his transition teams for major federal agencies. Phillip Washington of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority will lead the Department of Transportation team, Patrice Simms of Earthjustice will lead the Environmental Protection Agency group, Arun Majumdar from Stanford University will head the Department of Energy team, and Robert Bonnie from Duke University and the Bipartisan Policy Center will head up the Department of Agriculture team. A full list can be found here.
Congress Begins Negotiations Over Final FY 2021 Funding
Although fiscal year (FY) 2021 for the federal government began on Oct. 1, Congress passed a continuing resolution through Dec. 11. While the House passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills, the Senate released the text of its appropriations bills on Nov. 10, allowing formal negotiations between the two chambers to begin. With control of Congress not expected to change when the 117th Congress begins in January, there is a chance the 116th Congress could enact a continuing resolution to provide funding through the end of FY 2021. Stay tuned to NCSL for any changes or new developments.
U.S. Formally Exits the Paris Agreement
On Nov. 4, the United States formally exited the Paris climate agreement, under which former President Barack Obama set the goal of cutting carbon emissions by roughly 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” President-elect Joe Biden has stated his intent for the U.S. to reenter the Paris Agreement.
White House Temporarily Moves Ahead with Overhaul of NEPA
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is moving ahead with an overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules, directing the heads of major federal agencies to align their NEPA procedures with the recent changes drafted by the Council on Environmental Quality. "The President has emphasized that the Federal environmental review and permitting process should be coordinated, predictable, and transparent," officials at OMB wrote. "To ensure that new or updated agency NEPA procedures are proposed by Sept. 14, 2021, agencies need to prioritize this effort." The changes, finalized this summer, aimed to accelerate environmental review of major projects like highways and pipelines—cutting down on page counts and timelines. President-elect Biden is expected to pause these effort after taking office. It is also likely the House will use the Congressional Review Act to undo the changes formalized by the council.
USDA and DOI Deliver Priority Infrastructure Projects for FY 2021
In a major step toward implementing the recently enacted Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) delivered to Congress its priority list of deferred maintenance projects for funding in FY 2021, totaling $285 million. The Department of Interior also identified priority deferred maintenance projects, including those at Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite National Park. GAOA provides $900 million in permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in addition to directing other energy revenues to reduce the backlog of federal infrastructure projects.
President Appoints James Danly As New FERC Chair
President Donald Trump appointed James Danly as chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), replacing Neil Chatterjee, who has served as FERC chairman since 2018. While no specific reasons for change were given, many analysts speculated it was in response to Chatterjee’s recent approval of an order favoring distributed energy resources and the FERC’s hosting of a meeting on carbon pricing. Danly served as FERC's general counsel starting in 2017 before he was confirmed as commissioner last year. FERC remains an agency that has significant effects on state energy policies, electrical transmission infrastructure and pipeline approval.
DOT Announces New Drone Partnership with States as Integration Pilot Program Concluded
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the three-year Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP) concluded on Oct. 25. The announcement revealed that eight of the nine state, local and tribal governments that participated in the program have signed new agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to continue to tackle remaining UAS integration challenges as part of a new initiative called BEYOND. The new initiative will aim to answer ongoing issues surrounding Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations that are repeatable, scalable and economically viable with specific emphasis on infrastructure inspection, public operations and small package delivery. It also seeks to leverage industry operations to better analyze and quantify the societal and economic benefits of UAS operations and, most important, focus on community engagement efforts to collect, analyze and address community concerns.
Federal Reserve Highlights Climate Change as Potential Threat to Financial Stability
The Federal Reserve highlighted climate change as a potential threat to the stability of the financial system in a recently released report. Specifically, the report states “The Federal Reserve is evaluating and investing in ways to deepen its understanding of the full scope of implications of climate change for markets, financial exposures, and interconnections between markets and financial institutions.” Although the report did not include a requirement for banks to undertake similar assessments, it did note it would be helpful for financial firms to provide more information about how their investments could affected by the changing climate.
USDA to Allow Construction and Timber Harvests in Tongass National Forest
USDA announced a new final rule that exempts the entire Tongass National Forest in Alaska from a 2001 rule that prohibited road construction and timber harvests. The new rule could result in future old-growth timber and mining projects being approved in the forest. The 16.8 million-acre Tongass is the world’s largest remaining coastal temperate rain forest and its old-growth trees store large amounts of carbon that could be released into the atmosphere if they are logged. The state of Alaska petitioned the agency to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule. However, it is likely this action will be rescinded by President-elect Biden.
DOT Awards Millions for Intercity Passenger Rail Projects
DOT announced more than $291 million in grants for 11 intercity passenger rail projects in nine states through the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program (Partnership Program). The Partnership Program is intended to improve intercity passenger rail performance by funding capital projects to repair, replace or rehabilitate publicly owned or controlled railroad assets, thereby bringing them into a state of good repair.
EPA Announces New Requirements for Pesticide Application Exclusion Zone
In response to requirements included in the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act Extension of 2018 (PRIA), EPA announced new rules and requirements for the pesticide application exclusion zone (AEZ)—the area surrounding pesticide application equipment that exists only during outdoor production pesticide applications.
Thanks for reading. We will be back later this month to fill you in on other federal happenings—stay healthy and safe.
Ben and Kristen