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 NCSL’s coronavirus (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
Fall 2020 Energy, Environment and Transportation Webinar Series
NCSL is pleased to present a fall 2020 energy, environment and transportation webinar series, which launched Thursday, Aug. 27, and concludes Oct. 22. Most webinars will be recorded for those who are unable to attend the live meetings, and previous recordings can be found here.
Is the Clock Running Out for Standard Time?
Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020 | 3 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. CT / 1 p.m. MT / Noon PT
DOT Awards Emergency Funds to States for Damage from Natural Disasters
The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $574 million in emergency funds to 39 states and Puerto Rico to repair roads and bridges damaged by storms and other natural disasters. Specifically, $64 million is allocated for California, some of which is for repair in the aftermath of the 2019 wildfires, while Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and North Carolina will also receive funds in response to recent hurricanes and flooding. The program is administered by the Federal Highway Administration.
EPA Issues Draft National Recycling Strategy
The Environmental Protection Agency released a draft National Recycling Strategy that builds on the agency’s National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System. The strategy organizes high-level actions around three strategic objectives to improve the U.S. recycling system: reduce contamination, increase processing efficiency and improve markets.
Motor Vehicle Fatality Rates Rise During COVID-19
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new motor vehicle traffic fatality data showing that for the first half of 2020, there was a 29% rise in the likely fatality rate. Though the agency estimates there were 8,870 deaths in the second quarter of 2020, a decrease of 3.3% from the 9,172 road fatalities that were reported in the same period in 2019, the agency also estimated that for the first half of 2020, total traffic volume decreased by more than 16% as many states imposed stay-at-home orders. This increase in the fatality rate would go against the decline seen in the past few years and is likely due to the effects of the pandemic as “some drivers took risks that included speeding, driving impaired, and not using their seat belts." It is also likely that speeding rose in part because congestion was lower and because some communities reduced traffic enforcement in an attempt to lower exposure to coronavirus. The agency reported there were 36,096 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2019, compared to 36,835 fatalities in 2018, despite a nearly 1% increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled by Americans in 2019.
FERC Meeting on Pricing Carbon Dioxide Emissions Yields Agreement
General agreement existed among meeting participants on the need for a price on the emission of carbon dioxide at a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) conference, though disagreements arose on how to specifically implement such a policy. Some participants wanted FERC to establish a single national price on carbon emissions to avoid creating different prices for power plants in the various geographic markets, while other participants were open to customizing pricing plans based on each market's characteristics. Attendees also agreed the regulator has the authority to approve market rules that include a carbon price under the Federal Power Act.
North Carolina and Virginia Added to Federal Offshore Drilling Moratorium
The president issued a new memorandum adding North Carolina and Virginia to the 10-year offshore drilling moratorium, which he signed in September, that included Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Prior to this, there was only a 10-year ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico set to expire in 2022. Further, these new withdrawals include all energy leasing, meaning not only fossil fuels but also renewable energy, that could significantly curtail offshore wind energy development in the southeast.
Oklahoma Can Regulate Environmental Issues in Native American Territory
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Oklahoma the authority to regulate environmental issues in Native American territory, including lands inside historical tribal reservation boundaries, following a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year which resulted in a significant portion of the state being deemed a Native American reservation. The agency’s authority to transfer oversight from federal to state agencies comes from a provision in a 2005 law focused on federal transportation programs but also included a section allowing the EPA to grant Oklahoma the authority to continue regulating environmental issues across areas of the state designated as Indian Territory before statehood.
Supreme Court Leaves Indiana’s Right to Farm Act Intact
The Supreme Court declined to take a case involving Indiana’s Right to Farm Act, leaving in place the circuit court’s ruling upholding the state law barring nuisance claims against certain farms from neighbors. All 50 states have right to farm laws that seek to provide differing degrees of qualified immunity for farmers and ranchers.
Federal Judges Continue to Strike Down Federal Rules on Methane Waste Prevention
A federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming struck down a 2016 rule designed to rein in methane emissions from oil and gas production on public lands. The rule had established methane leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas production on federal lands. However, the judge ruled that BLM overstepped its authority under the Mineral Leasing Act, which allows the agency to take actions to reduce waste of oil and gas, and instead, had strayed into the territory of Clean Air Act regulations—the purview of the EPA. A California district court had also struck down a 2018 replacement rule, which is why the 2016 rule was currently in effect.
EPA Proposes National Standards under VIDA
The EPA issued a new proposed set of regulations under the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act that would establish national standards of performance for marine pollution control devices for discharges incidental to the normal operation of primarily commercial vessels. The EPA’s proposed standards would apply to commercial vessels greater than 79 feet in length; other non-recreational, non-Armed Forces vessels, such as research and emergency rescue vessels; and ballast water only from small vessels (vessels less than 79 feet in length) and fishing vessels of all sizes. The proposed rule also outlines procedures for states working through the EPA or the U.S. Coast Guard to seek more stringent requirements, request emergency orders, or apply for no-discharge zones for one or more of the incidental discharges in any or all state waters.
EPA Announces WIFIA Loans to the West
The EPA announced three new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loans totaling $216 million for water infrastructure projects in Tacoma, Wash., and the cities of Soquel and Stockton in California. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 established the WIFIA program, a federal credit program administered by the EPA for eligible water and wastewater infrastructure projects.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Issues Grants to Boost Ethanol and Biodiesel Sales
The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $22 million in grants to increase American ethanol and biodiesel sales through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP) to recipients in 14 states. The initial $22 million in the HBIIP investments are projected to increase ethanol demand by nearly 150 million gallons annually. The Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program helps transportation fueling and biodiesel distribution facilities convert to higher ethanol and biodiesel blends by sharing the costs related to the installation of fuel pumps, related equipment, and infrastructure.
Congress Approves Another Conservation Package
Congress passed another major conservation package following enactment of the Great American Outdoors Act earlier this year. S 3051 includes more than $1 billion in authorizations for federal wildlife and habitat conservation through fiscal year 2025. Additionally, It would reauthorize several programs focused on conservation in Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, create a program to provide federal funding to nonfederal fish habitat conservation projects and establish a joint federal-state task force to address chronic wasting disease. Further, the bill would authorize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue permits to livestock producers, allowing them to kill black vultures or common ravens to prevent livestock losses during calving and lambing seasons.
Bureau of Land Management Director’s Appointment Illegal, Says Court
The Federal District Court of Montana ruled that acting head of the Bureau of Land Management, William Pendley, had been serving illegally since July 2019 as his appointment violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. The court found that Pendley had been serving unlawfully for 424 days–he was temporarily appointed in July 2019 and was nominated by the president to fill the position on a permanent basis in July 2020 but withdrew the nomination in September 2020. The suit was brought by Montana Governor Steve Bullock, and the ruling potentially negates numerous acts he ordered depending on the outcome of further litigation. The bureau is expected to appeal the decision.
EPA Announces Flame Retardant Regulation Due to Health Risks
The EPA finalized its risk assessment for three flame retardants, better known by hexabromocyclododecane, or HBCD, finding no unreasonable risks to the general population or consumers. It did, however, find unreasonable risks to the environment from six conditions of use, and unreasonable risks to workers and occupational non-workers from the use and disposal of the chemicals. The findings mean the EPA must develop a regulation to reduce HBCD’s risks, and they must be proposed within one year and finalized between two and four. This is the third chemical risk evaluation the EPA has completed under the 2016 Toxic Substances Control Act amendments.
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