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.
NRI Committee Policy Week
Please join NCSL for its second annual online Policy Week, June 20-24. This will be an opportunity for all legislators and legislative staff to learn about NCSL Standing Committee policy processes, and to discuss the policy directives and resolutions scheduled for consideration at the upcoming Legislative Summit, Aug. 1-3 in Denver. The policy directives and resolutions guide NCSL’s work in Washington, D.C., on behalf of state legislatures. The Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee will meet Friday, June 24 at 3 p.m.
NCSL Energy Policy Summit
Before the NCSL Legislative Summit kicks off, join us July 31 at 1 p.m. for the Energy Policy Summit preconference. Learn about the nation’s energy system with a focus on new and emerging state policy trends, including the states' role in managing the energy transition, energy justice and energy market fundamentals.
EPA Proposal Would Restore State Authority Over Water Resources
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rulemaking to revise a 2020 federal rule which restricted state authority to certify, condition or deny federal permits and licenses for projects that would result in the discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States. It limited state authorities by reducing state timelines for review and certification, restricting the scope of certification reviews and conditions, and modifying other requirements and procedures.
The Biden administration’s proposed rule would make existing regulations more consistent with the 1972 Clean Water Act, in which Congress gave states, territories and tribes the authority to protect their waters from adverse impacts resulting from federally licensed or permitted projects. The proposed rulemaking requires developers to hold a pre-filing meeting with state-certifying authorities; gives states the flexibility to decide on a review period with the federal permitting agency of up to one year; and, notably, restores states' ability to evaluate an activity as a whole rather than the project’s specific discharge.
During the promulgation of the 2020 rule, NCSL raised concerns that the agency had not consulted with states, or their intergovernmental organizations, in a meaningful or timely manner. NCSL urged that any regulatory change to the certification process be developed through consultation with state and local governments and that it not compromise state authority. In 2021, NCSL urged the EPA Administrator Michael Regan to consult with states during the agency’s revision of the 2020 rule, and to recognize states’ well-established authority under the Clean Water Act. In revising the rulemaking In 2021, the EPA held a series of listening sessions and feedback opportunities for stakeholders and certifying authorities to gain input on the pre-proposal rulemakings and has also announced several engagement opportunities for states and territories on the new proposed rulemaking.
Administration Releases Proposed Requirements for New EV Charging Program for States
The Federal Highway Administration released proposed requirements for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program, which provides nearly $1 billion a year to states via formula for the Infrastructure law. The rules, as currently proposed would require that chargers funded with these federal funds be interoperable between different car brands, not require subscriptions, and provide minimum charging speeds and with simple payment systems. Federal funds can cover up to 80% of a project’s cost and the private sector is allowed to cover the other 20%.
President Unveils Solar Power Trade and Defense Production Act Orders
President Biden, in an effort to support both solar power installers who use panels made abroad as well as domestic manufacturers, invoked emergency authorities to impose a two-year ban on new tariffs for panels imported from four Southeast Asia nations, as well as executive powers granted to him by the Defense Production Act to ensure the federal government sustains domestic solar panel manufacturers.
Roadway Deaths Continue to Rise
The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 43,000 people died in traffic crashes last year, an 11% increase over 2020's already high figures, representing a 16-year high. The increase is the largest annual percentage increase since NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System started keeping statistics in 1975. Fatalities in multivehicle crashes were up 16% in 2021, as were fatalities on urban roads. Fatalities among drivers 65 and older were up 14% while speeding-related fatalities increased 17% from 2019 to 2020 and another 5% from 2020 to 2021.
Summertime Blackout Risks on the Rise
The North American Electric Reliability Corp., a federal electricity grid regulator reported the central and upper Midwest, Texas and Southern California face an increased risk of power outages this summer from extreme heat, wildfires and extended drought
Administration Releases Permitting Action Plan
The Biden Administration released a Permitting Action Plan to strengthen and accelerate federal permitting and environmental reviews. The plan outlines the administration’s strategy for ensuring that federal environmental reviews and permitting processes are effective, efficient, and transparent, guided by the best available science to promote positive environmental and community outcomes, and shaped by early and meaningful public engagement. The plan includes five key elements: (1) accelerating smart permitting through early cross-agency coordination; (2) establishing clear timeline goals and tracking key project information; (3) engaging in early and meaningful outreach with states, tribal nations, territories, and local communities; (4) improving agency responsiveness, technical assistance, and support; and (5) using agency resources and environmental reviews to improve impact.
Administration Announces New Actions to Strengthen Food Supply Chains
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced more support, resources, and new rules aimed at strengthening the food supply chain, promoting fair and competitive agricultural markets, and making prices fairer for farmers and American consumers. Included in the announcement was a proposed rule under the Packers and Stockyards Act as part of the President’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in the poultry growing system. Additionally, the USDA announced $200 million under the new Meat and Poultry Intermediary Lending Program to strengthen the food supply chain and create opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs in rural communities, as well as $25 million for workforce training programs for meat and poultry processing workers with American Rescue Plan Act funding. The final action was a report released on Promoting Competition in Agricultural Markets, the report outlines the USDA’s strategy for promoting competition in agricultural markets—including not only actions and initiatives to promote competition in meat and poultry markets, but also other key agricultural sectors like fertilizer and seeds.
EPA Announces $1.9 Billion State Revolving Fund via IIJA
The EPA announced $1.9 billion in grant funding to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRF) via annual appropriations for fiscal year 2022, which will be added to $7.7 billion in SRF funding through the IIJA for 2022. In 2022, the EPA is providing approximately $3.2 billion to the Clean Water SRFs, including $1.2 billion in new base federal grant funding, and $2 billion through the IIJA, with more than $47 million in direct grant funding is available to tribes, certain U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia for infrastructure projects. The EPA is also providing $6.4 billion to the Drinking Water SRFs, including $728 million in new base federal grant funding, and $5.7 billion through the IIIJA, with more than $32 million in direct grant funding is available to tribes, certain U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia to use for drinking water system upgrades.
EPA Increases Biofuel Volumes for 2022, USA Invests $700 Million to Support Biofuel Producers
The EPA set new biofuel blending mandates for 2022 at 20.63 billion gallons in an aim to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and diversity the fuel supply. The EPA also established a 250-million-gallon “supplemental obligation” to the volumes finalized for 2022 and stated its intent to add another 250 million gallons in 2023, to address the remand of the 2014-2016 annual rule by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Americans for Clean Energy v. EPA.
Additionally, the USDA announced it was providing $700 million to help lower costs and support biofuel producers who faced unexpected market losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds are being made available through the Biofuel Producer Program, which was created as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The investments include more than $486 million for 62 producers located in “socially vulnerable communities.”
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 50-page IIJA technical assistance guide to help state and local governments that might not be familiar with applying for federal funds identify the programs, processes, and resources that provide targeted support to a community, region, organization, or other beneficiary to help them access and deploy federal funding to deliver results.
Infrastructure Funding for Hydrogen Projects Starts to Roll Out
The Department of Energy outlined its high-level vision for the creation of a series of “hydrogen hubs,” which will receive a total of $8 billion over five years through the federal infrastructure bill. Relatedly, the DOE announced it closed on a $504.4 million loan guarantee to the Advanced Clean Energy Storage project in Utah that will help finance construction of the largest clean hydrogen storage facility in the world, capable of providing long-term low-cost, seasonal energy storage, furthering grid stability. This is the first loan guarantee for a new clean energy technology project from DOE’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) since 2014.
DOE Begins Infrastructure Law Program to Fund Carbon Capture Projects
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released a Notice of Intent to fund the federal infrastructure law’s $3.5 billion program to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution directly from the air. The Regional Direct Air Capture Hubs program will support four large-scale, regional direct air capture hubs.
First Round of $500 Million in Clean School Bus Funding Open
The administration announced $500 million for clean school buses, representing the first round of funding from the $5 billion investment for low and zero-emission school buses over the next five years via the IIJA. The EPA has been authorized by Congress to prioritize applications that will replace buses serving high-need local education agencies, tribal schools, and rural areas, aligning with the administration’s Justice40 initiative to direct at least 40% of the benefits of certain government investments to underserved communities. The EPA is accepting applications from May 20 until Aug. 19, 2022.
States to Receive More Than $68.4 Billion to Conserve and Strengthen Ecosystems and Economies
DOI announced that 125 ecosystem restoration projects in over 20 states, Tribes and territories will receive nearly $68.4 million in fiscal year 2022 funding provided for via the IIJA. Agencies that will receive the funding include Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, Office of Insular Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey, and they will work with state, tribal, and territorial governments to distribute the funding. Funding will be used to: advance healthy forests to reduce wildfire risk; mitigate hazards and restore mined lands; restore recreation sites and national parks; and restore ecosystems by detecting and eradicating invasive species.
U.S. Forest Service Announces SRS Payments to States
The U.S. Forest Service announced $238 million in Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments to 41 states, and Puerto Rico, for FY 2021. A revenue share program, the SRS provides critical funding for schools, roads and other municipal services, with payments made to states based on historical revenue generated from timber sales on federal lands. The FY 2021 round of payments is the first of three authorized payments under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which not only reauthorized the program, through FY 2023, but also increased funding for all three years to FY 2017 levels. Each state’s payment amount is determined by various factors set in IIJA, including the number of counties electing to share in a state's payment.
DOI Releases Draft Guidance on Abandoned Mine Land Program
DOI released draft guidance for eligible states and tribes on how to apply for the $725 million in funding via the IIJA reclaim Abandoned Mine Lands (AML). In total the IIJA will provide a total of $11.3 billion to aid in AML reclamation. The draft guidance also includes information on how applicants can ensure that activities funded under the program are putting people to work, protecting the environment, investing in disadvantaged communities consistent with the administration’s Justice 40 Initiative.
Federal Highways Unveils Second Half of Infrastructure Law Bridge Program
The USDOT announced that it will begin accepting bids for the new Bridge Investment Program, which was included in the infrastructure law and is the compatible side of the laws funds for repair and replacing bridges. the program will provide $12.5 billion over five years—compared to the $27.5 billion provided directly to states via formulas. The competitive program actually includes three different grant opportunities: the first will help fund the planning process of a project that aims to apply later for a construction grant, while smaller or “bridge projects” that cost $100 million or less, is the second and grants on large projects is the third
White House Issues Buy America Waiver for States
The Transportation Department issued a 180-day waiver for requirements to source domestically made materials for projects funded with IIJA funds. The administration last month issued guidance requiring that projects funded by the infrastructure package source steel, iron, and construction materials from the U.S.
Transportation Department Unveils New Safe Streets Program
The DOT announced a new funding program included in the infrastructure law that provides $1 billion per year for the next five years for projects that aim to improve road safety. The Safe Streets for All competitive grant program , allows cities, towns, planning organizations and tribal governments, though not states, to apply for money that can be used for projects like widening shoulders, protecting bike lanes or collecting better traffic data. The competitive grants provide 80% of the funding for winning projects, and no more than 15% of funds can be awarded to a single state per year.
Federal Railroad Administration Begins Search for New Rail Corridors
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) established the new Corridor Identification and Development (ID) Program, which was part of the IIJA and aims to establish a pipeline of rail projects for both federal investments and technical assistance for new or improved intercity passenger rail services.
PHMSA Opens Applications for new Natural Gas Modernization Grant Program
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration began accepting applications for new $200 million Natural Gas Distribution Infrastructure Safety and Modernization Grant program.
- The USDA will provide $6 billion to commodity and specialty crop producers impacted by 2020 and 2021 natural disasters via the Farm Service Agency’s Emergency Relief Program. Read More
- The USDA and the Economic Development Administration launched a resource guide to help community organizations access federal resources to boost economic development in rural America. Read More
- Three bipartisan bills, H.R. 2606, H.R. 2518, and H.R. 7764 aimed at encouraging conservation on farms passed out of the House Agriculture Committee. Read More
- The administration announced new actions aimed at strengthening the food supply chains, leveling the playing field for growers, and lowering prices for consumers. Read More
- U.S. liquefied natural gas exports grew by nearly 20%; Now the largest supplier to Europe. Read More
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission predicts electricity prices could rise by as much as 233% over last summer's power prices. Read More
- The DOI cancels remaining 2022 offshore oil and gas lease sales citing conflicting court rulings and low industry interest. Read More
- First ever offshore wind auction for the Carolina’s brought in over $315 million, and a $42 million investment in domestic supply chain and workforce training. Read More
- The EPA announced $255 million to 265 communities to clean up Brownfield sites, with $75 million coming from FY 2022 appropriations and the remainder from IIJA funds. Read More
- The EPA has added five PFAS to a list of “risk-based values” that help determine whether response or remediation actions are necessary. Read More
- The OSMRE announced $122.5 million for Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization grants to six Appalachian states and three Tribes. Read More
- The U.S. Forest Service placed a 90-day ban on its prescribed fire program as Chief orders a review to assess benefits and risks after isolated burn escapes. Read More
- The DOI proposes expanding Endangered Species Act conservation technique to better facilitate recovery by allowing for the introduction of listed species to suitable habitats outside of their historical ranges. Read More
- The EPA issued a toolbox of existing laws that states and the federal government may use to ensure programs and policies advance environmental justice. Read More
- The Senate confirms Steven Cliff to head the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Read More
- Retired General Stephen R. Lyons, former commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, appointed as New Port and Supply Chain Envoy. Read More
- The House Transportation Chair and ranking member request additional work by the USDOT to increase truck parking. Read More
- The Federal Aviation Administration awards $518 million in second round of FY 2022 Airport Improvement Program grants. Read More
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration awards $463 million in grants to states to help fund the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program grant program. Read More
- The FRA Awards $368 million in grants to improve rail infrastructure, enhance and strengthen supply chains. Read More
- The FMCSA extends COVID-19 emergency declaration and waivers through Aug. 31. Read More
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next month to fill you in on other pressing federal news!
Kristen and Ben