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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), or my colleague Kristen Hildreth (email@example.com), and we will point you in the right direction.
Supreme Court Reinstates Rule Restricting State Authority to Implement Clean Water Act
On April 6 , the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a 2020 rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning implementation of the Clean Water Action (CWA) Section 401 Certification Rule. The rule significantly limits state authority and autonomy to certify, condition or deny any required federal permits and licenses for projects that would result in the discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States. The court’s ruling overturns decisions by both a federal district court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had previously vacated the 2020 rule. The 2020 rulemaking limited state authorities by including reductions in state timelines for review and certification, restrictions on the scope of certification reviews and conditions, and modifications of other related requirements and procedures.
President Issues Defense Production Act for Key Metals
The president ordered the Defense Department to consider at least five metals—lithium, cobalt, graphite, nickel and manganese—as essential to national security under the Defense Production Act. These metals are required to make the batteries used in clean energy technology, and the U.S. largely relies on other nations for the mining and processing of these metals. By invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA), the president authorizes the Defense Department to use the DPA to provide federal funds to private sector entities covering a number of mining business activities including feasibility studies and financing “co-product and byproduct production.”
DOI Expected to Delay New Oil and Gas Lease Sales in Gulf of Mexico, Restarts on Federal Land
As part of the president’s fiscal year 2023 proposed budget, the administration noted it does not anticipate selling offshore drilling rights in the Gulf of Mexico un at least October 2023 according to economic projections. Specifically, the projections show expected revenues from offshore oil auction bids and annual rental payments on existing leases are set to decline to just $25 million in fiscal 2023, a drop of nearly 90%.
Related, the administration has announced it will resume onshore oil and gas leasing on federal lands under a revised program in June. The revised program includes a royalty rate hike to 18.75%, with lease sale notices on 173 parcels covering 144,000 acres, a significant decline from previously proposed amounts. The president froze new oil and gas leasing in January 2021, and a federal judge overturned that moratorium last year.
NHTSA Triples Penalties for Non-Compliance with Federal CAFÉ Standards and Boosts Fuel Economy Standards for FY 2026 Model Vehicles
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a final rule increasing its corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, penalty from $5.50 to $14 per tenth of a mile per gallon that a vehicle fails to meet CAFE requirements. The increases were required by a 2015 law requiring agencies to adjust their penalties to account for inflation leading to the first CAFE increase since 1997, which was slated to take effect for model year 2019 vehicles. President Trump attempted to reverse the increase but was overruled by a federal court. He then instituted a delay until 2022 which led to NHTSA’s action.
Relatedly, NHTSA also finalized a rulemaking increasing fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks that aims to achieve an average of 49 mpg for 2026 model-year vehicles. The rulemaking will require 8% improvements in model years 2024 and 2025, with a 10% improvement in 2026. That will culminate in “roughly” 49 mpg in 2026, or 9.7 mpg over the baseline according to NTHSA.
Emergency Waiver for Year-Round Sale of E-15 Expected
The White House announced a plan that aims to reduce gasoline prices for Americans by “increasing fuel supplies [and] offering more consumer choices.” The primary piece of the plan is the expectation that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue a national, emergency waiver to allow the sale of gasoline blended with 15% ethanol. Sale of E15 gasoline is banned between June 1 and Sept. 15 in certain areas where smog is more likely to occur. The move is expected only to affect around 2,300 gas stations, a fraction of the roughly 150,000 filling stations in the U.S.
TSA Begins Accepting Mobile IDs at Airport Security
The Transportation Security Administration launched its mobile driver’s license program beginning with Arizona’s Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Arizona residents enrolled in TSA PreCheck will have access to the program, which will allow their mobile ID to verify their identity when going through airport security. Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Utah are also partnering with Apple on digital IDs that will be accepted by TSA. Read more.
$2.8 Billion Proposed for FY 2023 Allocations via the Great American Outdoors Act.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Interior (DOI) announced their proposed FY 2023 allocations of $2.8 billion in projects, grants and programs authorized in the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA). GAOA established the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, authorizing up to $1.9 billion per year from FY 2021 through FY 2025 to reduce deferred maintenance on public lands and at Indian schools. GAOA also provides permanent, full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually. Details of Interior’s FY 2023 project funding and distribution are available on the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund and Land and Water Conservation Fund websites. Details of the USDA Forest Service FY 2023 project funding and distribution are available on the agency’s Great American Outdoors Act website.
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 a Rural Infrastructure Playbook for implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The playbook provides information for rural communities on all available resources under the IIJA, where to apply, funding flexibilities, and how to find more information. It also includes a list of more than 100 programs with cost share or matching requirement waivers. There are also federal agency specific fact sheets for all rural specific programs within the IIJA
The White House also issued requirements for how projects funded by the infrastructure law should source their construction materials from U.S. companies—“Buy American.” The guidance requires that material purchased for projects like roads, bridges and pipelines comes from domestic sources beginning May 14. The guidance seeks to “increase reliance on domestic supply chains and reduce the need for waivers,” and exceptions to the Buy America policy will be made public prior to waivers being granted. The goal, according to the guidance, is to ensure American workers and companies benefit from increased infrastructure spending and reduce U.S. reliance on China for critical supplies.
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 IIJA. Updates
USDA Announces Investment in Nation’s Rural Schools
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service announced an investment of more than $238 million to support public schools, roads, and other municipal services through the Secure Rural Schools Program, which will deliver payments to 742 eligible counties in 41 states and Puerto Rico. The program was reauthorized for fiscal years 2021 through 2023 by the IIJA.
DOE Issues Guidance for State Energy Program Funding
The Department of Energy issued initial guidance for State Energy Program (SEP) funding provided in IIJA, which appropriated $500 million for SEP and requires that states submit a State Energy Security Plan. The initial guidance allows states to request funding for a portion of their allocation of up to $200,000 to update or create such a plan. Applications are due May 3. Guidance on how to apply for remaining funding will be provided later.
DOE Posts Updates on WAP Funding
The DOE posted new updates regarding the IIJA’s $3.5 billion Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) funding. The materials include estimates of state allocations, which are shown in FFIS’s IIJA spreadsheet
DOE Issues RFI for Efficiency and Renewable Energy Improvements at Public Schools
The DOE issued a Request for Information (RFI) on Grants for Energy Efficiency Improvements and Renewable Energy Improvements at Public School Facilities created in the new infrastructure law which provides $100 million annually for FYs 2022-2026. Responses are due May 18.
U.S. Forest Service Expands Wildfire Prevention Efforts in 8 Western States
The U.S. Forest Service unveiled the 200,000 acres of lands across eight states the agency will target with expanded wildfire prevention efforts, the first step in a new long-term strategy to curb fires in Western forests. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona will receive a combined $131 million from USDA to mitigate potential blazes in high-risk areas and to bolster their workforces in fiscal 2022, across some 208,000 acres. The funding also includes $34 million for new workforce salaries. The funds come from the IIJA and begin work on the Forest Service’s 10-year wildfire strategy: Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America’s Forests.
Relatedly, the Department of Interior released its five-year wildlife risk monitoring, maintenance, and treatment plan—building upon the visions and goals of USDA’s 10-year wildlife strategy. Together, USDA’s 10-Year Strategy and DOI’s five-year plan will inform the development of a joint USDA and DOI long-term, outcome-based monitoring, maintenance and treatment strategy required by the IIIJA.
Army Corps Announces $2.7 Billion in Funding
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced $2.7 billion for over 300 new projects with funding from the IIJA. The projects are aimed at strengthening the nation’s supply chain and providing new economic opportunities.
EPA Releases New Resources for the Clean School Bus Program
The Environmental Protection Agency released new resources to help school districts and others who may be eligible to prepare for the $5 billion Clean School Bus Program launched under IIJA. Funding is expected to be released this year for replacing old fleets with electric and other low-emission alternatives.
Bureau of Reclamation Announces Funding for Projects via IIJA
The Bureau of Reclamation announced FY 2022 projects for two activities funded in the IIJA. Of the $1 billion appropriated for previously authorized rural water projects, $420 million was announced for six projects. Of the $500 million provided for dam safety, $100 million will go toward the B.F. Sisk Dam in California.
Department of Interior Releases Guidance on Orphaned and Oil Well Cleanup
The Department of the Interior released final guidance to states on how to apply for initial orphaned well grants of up to $25 million under the IIJA. The law provides a total of $4.7 billion to clean up these environmental and safety hazards, create good-paying union jobs, catalyze economic growth and revitalization, and shut down sources of harmful methane emissions. States will also be eligible for formula and performance grants under the IIJA. Guidance for those applications will be informed by comments received on the initial grants draft guidance and will be released later.
USDOT Announces New Common Application for $3 Billion in Infrastructure Funds
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the availability of nearly $3 billion in FY 2022 competitive grant funding for surface transportation projects that were included in IIJA. The announcement includes three separate and distinct programs though applicants will only have to submit one application for consideration by all three programs. Of the three programs, two are new and one is an existing program. The MEGA program (National Infrastructure Project Assistance) is intended to fund projects that are too large or complex for traditional funding programs, like multijurisdictional and multimodal projects. The program is funded at $1 billion for FY 2022. The other new program is the Rural Surface Transportation Grant Program, which will provide up to $300 million in grants this year. The final program is the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program for freight infrastructure. Created prior to the new law, it received a boost of more than 50%, to about $1.55 billion annually. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg notes the reasons behind the new approach: “It reduces the burden, especially on smaller communities, so that they do not have to develop and pursue multiple applications for multiple programs. And it allows our department to get a more holistic view of the needs and requests across the country so that we can be strategic with the funding that has been entrusted to us.”
USDOT Released Safe Streets and Roads for All Guidance
The U.S. Department of Transportation released guidance for the Safe Streets and Roads for All discretionary program which will provide up to $6 billion in grants over the next five years for regional, local, and tribal initiatives to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries. Guidance, including details of eligible activities and action planning suggestions have been posted to the Department’s SS4A webpage. A Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is anticipated to be released in spring of 2022, likely in May.
USDOT Releases Guidance and Funding for Transportation Alternatives Program
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued new guidance and increased funding levels provided by IIJA for transportation alternatives program, which helps fund pedestrian and bicycle focused projects. Funds can also be used for recreational trails, Safe Routes to School projects, road safety assessments, historic preservation and vegetation management, and environmental mitigation related to stormwater and habitat connectivity. IIJA nearly doubled funding for the Transportation Alternatives (TA) Set-Aside program, from $850 million annually to an average annual amount of $1.44 billion over five years, according to a news release from FHWA.
FAA Announces Infrastructure Bill Funding for Airport Towers
The Federal Aviation Administration opened the application process for infrastructure law funding to modernize air traffic control towers at many small town and municipal airports. The FAA’s competitive grant program provides $20 million annually over five years for towers within the newly established Airport Infrastructure Grant program.
USDA Publishes Origin of Livestock Final Rule for Organic Dairy
The USDA published its Origin of Livestock (OOL) final rule for organic dairy which will be overseen by its National Organic Program. The rule allows a dairy livestock operation transitioning to organic, or starting a new organic farm, to transition non-organic animals one time, and prohibits organic dairies from sourcing any transitioned animals. Once a dairy is certified organic, animals must be managed as organic from the last third of gestation.
Energy Department to Provide Assistance to Local Governments
The DOE announced the selection of 22 communities to take part in the Local Energy Action Program (LEAP) Pilot. The pilot will target technical assistance to low-income, energy-burdened communities that are also experiencing either environmental justice impacts or economic impacts from a shift away from reliance on fossil fuels.
GSA and DOE Issue New Requirement for Federal Buildings
The General Services Administration issued a new goal of transitioning all of its federal buildings to 100% renewable electricity by 2025. Additionally, the agency wants 40% of its new construction building designs to include on-site renewable energy generation systems by 2025, according to the plan. Related, DOE issued news building codes for federal buildings, which state that beginning in April 2023, all new buildings and major retrofits constructed by the federal government must comply with the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the 2019 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers Standard 90.1 building energy codes.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to Hold Offshore Wind Lease Auction in the Carolinas
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) will hold its first offshore wind auction for two leases covering over 110, 000 acres off the coasts of North and South Carolina on May 11. If developed, the wind turbines in the areas could generate at least 1.3 gigawatts of energy, or enough to power nearly 500,000 homes. As part of its lease stipulations a semiannual progress report where lessees will identify tribal nations and parties potentially affected by the activities and provide updates on engagement activities, and will offer a 20% credit to bidders if they commit to invest in programs to advance workforce training or supply chain development.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act Passes Senate Committee
The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act was advanced by the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee 15-5, an action that was long awaited following the House Natural Resources Committee’s advancement of its companion in January. The act would set aside dedicated annual funding of $1.4 billion over a decade for states, tribes and territories. The measure would amend a 1930s-era law to make supplemental money available for conservation projects selected by state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service would distribute the funds. There are some concerns, however, on how the measure is funded. Right now the funds would come from penalties collected for environmental violations, instead of through annual appropriations which cause concern regarding the stability of the funds.
EPA Issues Memorandum on Accelerating Nutrient Pollution Reduction in Nation’s Waters
The EPA issued a memorandum on accelerating nutrient pollution reduction in the nation’s waters which includes details on actions to support states in implementing effective nutrient loss reduction strategies. The memo ramps up engagement with the Department of Agriculture and provides financial tools such as grants that the EPA is eyeing to help states rein in nutrient pollution, including a new rule that allows states to add nutrient trading to water permits. In the memo, EPA makes clear it plans to lean more on the Clean Water Act to serve as an “incentive and backstop" for collaboration with states. The EPA is also calling on states and tribes to more fully use “total maximum daily limits,” or TMDLs, to limit nutrient pollution, a practice that is at the cleanup of bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay that receive urban and agricultural runoff that can be loaded with nutrients.
EPA Proposes to Prohibit Ongoing Use of Asbestos
The 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. In December 2020, the EPA issued a final risk evaluation that found unreasonable risks to human health from conditions of use associated with six categories of products. This proposed rule is the first-ever risk management rule issued under the new process for evaluating and addressing the safety of existing chemicals under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that was enacted in 2016. In addition to its ban, the agency also proposed targeted disposal and record keeping requirements.
EPA Rejects Biofuel Blending Waivers for Small Refineries
The EPA denied three dozen requests from small refineries for exemptions from biofuel-blending requirements for the 2018 compliance year. In denying the exemptions, EPA officials announced it was meeting a directive from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that economic hardship exemptions can only be issued if the hardship is tied to the RFS, not other factors. As background, the EPA approved the exemptions in August 2019 and biofuel groups sued. In January 2020, the 10th Circuit ruled the EPA did not have authority to grant hardship exemptions for economic strains caused by factors other than the biofuel blending requirement. In December 2021, another federal court ruled the EPA could revisit the exemptions from 2018.
$1 Billion ‘America the Beautiful’ Challenge Announced for Conservation Projects
Several federal agencies and philanthropic organizations have partnered together to announce streamlined grant funding opportunities for new conservation and restoration projects across the United States. The America the Beautiful Challenge is a public-private grant program for “locally led ecosystem restoration projects that invest in watershed restoration, resilience, equitable access, workforce development, corridors and connectivity, and collaborative conservation,” consistent with the America the Beautiful Initiative.
MOU Reached for Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan
A memorandum of understanding was reached by the state of California, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other public agencies and irrigation districts on how to manage the and implement the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. The agreements direct suppliers to leave up to 824,000 acre-feet of flow in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from January through June, an important window for fish populations to replenish and to preserve floodplain for wildlife spawning and habitat restoration. The voluntary agreement will last for eight years and will cost almost $2.6 billion to implement, including $858 million for habitat construction and restoration, $490 million for permanent state water purchases and $268 million to pay farmers for voluntary fallowing of their fields in the Sacramento and Feather River watersheds. A separate $325 million represents funding from water agencies and the state and federal governments to cover these and other expenses.
USDOT Releases FY 2022 Public Transit Funding
The USDOT announced FY 2022 funding for federal transit administration formula programs amounting to $20 billion which represents a 58% increase in transit funding over FY 2021 and that was the "largest ever" single year appropriation for transit programs. Specifically, the new funding levels include:
- $6.9 billion for the Urbanized Area Formula Program, which provides funds to large local governments, and represents 29% more than 2021.
- $4.1 billion for the State of Good Repair Formula Program, which generally provides funds to local governments, and represents 52% more than 2021.
- $893 million for Rural Area Formula grants, which support transit programs in rural areas via state DOTs, and represents 23% more than 2021.
- $422 million for the Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program, through state DOTs, and represents 44% more than 2021.
PHMSA Opens Application Process for Pipeline Safety Grant Programs and Requires Shut off Valves
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) posted Notices for Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) for states and local governments for three pipeline safety grant programs: the One-Call Grant Program, the Technical Assistance Grant Program (TAG), and the State Damage Prevention Grant Program. The One Call Grant program is designed to provide funding to state agencies in promoting damage prevention, including with their state underground damage prevention laws, related compliance activities, training, and public education. The TAG program provides funding to local communities and groups of individuals (not including for-profit entities) for technical assistance relating to pipeline safety. The purpose of the State Damage Prevention Grants program is to establish comprehensive state programs designed to prevent damage to underground pipelines in states that do not have such programs and to improve damage prevention programs in states that do.
Relatedly, PHMSA announced that pipelines will be required to install automatic or remote-controlled shut-off valves to increase safety and reduce methane emissions. The new rule, effective 180 days from March 31, applies to all new or replaced onshore pipelines six or more inches in diameter.
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next month to fill you in on other pressing federal news!
Kristen and Ben