Below you will find some of the latest news on 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), or my colleague Kristen Hildreth (email@example.com), and we will point you in the right direction.
NCSL Sends Letter to Congressional Leadership on Permitting Reform
In response to the ongoing conversation in Congress on reforming federal permitting processes, NCSL sent a letter to congressional leadership highlighting that, although the organization supports the overarching goal of streamlining federal regulatory permitting review processes, it has significant concerns with core provisions of the draft proposals that would further preempt existing state authority to certify infrastructure projects. Specifically, NCSL strongly opposes the proposed provisions that would eliminate state authority over the siting of electric transmission projects found by the secretary of energy to be “national interest facilities.” Instead, NCSL urges Congress to allow the provisions included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to take effect. Second, NCSL opposes provisions concerning Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) that would strip states of their role as integrators and managers of programs impacting their water resources. Rather, NCSL supports the model of cooperative federalism enshrined in the CWA, which acknowledges that a singular, universal approach to water protection and management does not consider the unique water challenges individual states face.
FHWA Releases New Guidance to States on Traffic Safety
The Federal Highway Administration released new non-binding guidance for states regarding the required Vulnerable Road User (VRU) Safety Assessment Guidance. The IIJA requires states to develop the VRU as part of their Highway Safety Improvement Plan which provides states with billions in federal funding.
EPA Issues Final Rule to Reduce the Use of Ozone-Depleting Substances by 40 Percent
The EPA proposed a rule to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons by 40%—the second step toward fulfilling a target set by Congress to curb emissions of the potent greenhouse gas by 85% by 2036. The rule is in line with federal law and the requirements of the Kigali Amendment, which Congress ratified last month. Once implemented by the U.S. and other nations, the international climate agreement is expected to reduce warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius this century. Hydrofluorocarbons are a family of chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as aerosols, foams and other products.
Labor Department Finalizes Updated H-2A Regulations
The Labor Department finalized updated regulations for the H-2A visa program for temporary agriculture workers, completing a process that began in 2019. Specifically, the regulations revamp how prevailing wage standards are determined while also tweaking some of the standards required to participate in the program. Last year, more than 250,000 H-2A visas were issued. The final rule broadly keeps intact the changes proposed back in July 2019, which were intended to simplify the application process.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Updates
For a summary of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, visit NCSL’s webpage. Updates on agency actions are broken down below by policy topic.
DOE Extends Grant Period for FY22 State and Tribal Grid Resilience Grants
The DOE extended the application period for the fiscal year 2022 State and Tribal Formula Grid Resilience Grants program from Sept. 30, 2022, to March 31, 2023. Via the IIJA, the $2.3 billion formula grant program is focused on strengthening and modernizing America’s power grid against wildfires, extreme weather, and other natural disasters that are exacerbated by the climate crisis. The program will distribute up to $2.3 billion to states, tribal nations and territories over five years based on a formula that includes, among other things, population size, land area, probability and severity of disruptive events, and a locality’s historical expenditures on mitigation efforts. Priority will be given to projects that generate the greatest community benefit providing clean, affordable, and reliable energy to everyone, everywhere, anytime.
EPA Announces $1 Billion from EPA’s Clean School Bus Program
The EPA announced the first round of funding for low- and zero-emission school busses of the $5 billion allocated within the IIJA. School districts from all 50 states, territories and commonwealths applied for the nearly $1 billion, with more than 90% of buses requested were for zero-emission electric buses, nearly 9% of applications were for propane buses and 1% were for compressed natural gas buses. The first tranche of funding will go to 389 school districts.
DOI Announces $210 Million for Water Storage and Conveyance Projects
The DOI announced $210 million from IIJA for water storage and conveyance projects and two feasibility studies which aim to advance water storage capacity. The funding is part of the $1.05 billion in Water Storage, Groundwater Storage and Conveyance Projects included within IIJA, and seven projects were selected in five states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana and Washington.
White House Hosts Virtual Summit on ‘Accelerating Infrastructure’
The White House released its plan to accelerate infrastructure along with a fact sheet highlighting resources aimed at reducing the complexity of permitting federally funded infrastructure projects. Additionally, the Transportation Department released nonbinding guidance on best practices regarding public comment periods.
New Culvert Removal and Replacement Program Unveiled
The FHWA along with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, opened applications for state, tribal, and local governments to access a total of $1 billion over five years from the new National Culvert Removal, Replacement and Restoration-Culvert Aquatic Organism Passage Program established by the IIJA.
FAA Announces $1 Billion for Airport Terminal Improvement
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced the availability of $1 billion in FY 2023 funds for the Airport Terminal Program. The IIJA provided $1 billion annually for the program over FYs 2022-2026 to upgrade, modernize, and rebuild airport terminals and airport-owned traffic control towers.
DOT Unveils Thriving Communities Program for Local Governments
The Department of Transportation launched its Thriving Communities Program which provides $30 million aimed at helping communities access federal infrastructure funding under the IIJA. The program will pair a cohort of applicants with organizations who will provide technical assistance, planning, and capacity building support to grow community capacity to take projects from conception through to delivery. The program is focused on supporting under-resourced and disadvantaged urban, rural and Tribal communities.
USDA Providing $759 million to Bring High Speed Internet to Rural America
USDA is providing $759 million across 26 states and territories to bring high-speed internet access to people living and working across 24 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and Palau. The $759 million in loans and grants comes from the third funding round of the ReConnect Program.
Infrastructure Reduction Act
Updates on related-agency actions are below:
- The DOI proposed an offshore lease sale in 2023 to comply with IRA requirements The proposed sale would offer the entire available Gulf of Mexico will be held March 29, 2023. It also released a final environmental review for an upcoming, though not yet scheduled, oil auction in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
- The DOI opens up an IRA-funded program to help mitigate drought, protect important natural resources and ensure a reliable source of water and power for those who live in communities across the West. The program is accepting proposals for system conservation resulting in additional volumes of water remaining in Lake Mead.
- The EPA is seeking public input on IRA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund which will deploy $27 billion in competitive grants for clean energy and climate projects that reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions with a focus on disadvantaged communities.
- The USDA Announces $21.9 million in grants for projects through the Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant Program to help meat and poultry processors make necessary facility improvements, expand their businesses, and strengthen the nation’s food supply chain. Read More
- The USDA is soliciting feedback on a regulatory framework that the federal government is considering for a new strategy to control salmonella in poultry products and more effectively reduce foodborne salmonella infections linked to these products. Read More
- The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its 2022-2023 winter outlook report which noted that New England is at risk of natural gas shortages this winter amid surging global demand that’s driving up US exports. However, the fuel shortages that may affect the Northeast won’t affect other regions and power grids across the US are expected to have enough generating capacity to meet demand this winter. The report also noted that thanks to La Nina, much of the US will experience winter weather that’s warmer than average, for the third consecutive winter. Read More
- The DOI expects to auction about 373,000 acres off central and northern California, the first off the Pacific coast, which is enough space to install turbines with more than 4.5 gigawatts of capacity. Read More
- The EPA released two-year milestone evaluations on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, finding that Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia— most of the Bay —states—are not on track to meet the 2025 water quality restoration goals established by the Chesapeake Bay Program. Read More
- The EPA is soliciting input on environmental justice considerations related to the development of the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI). The EPA is accepting written comments. Read More
- The U.S. Supreme Court heard Sackett v. EPA and is planning to consider what test courts should use to determine whether the CWA applies to the land, which the EPA has deemed a wetland. The answer will have significant implications for several key EPA regulatory actions. Read More
- The GAO reviewed PFAS contamination in drinking water and examined state actions—they recommended EPA conduct a nationwide analysis to determine the demographic characteristics of communities with PFAS chemicals in their drinking water. Read More
- The EPA released its Strategy to Reduce Lead Exposures and Disparities in U.S. Communities which initiates several new actions including technical assistance for accelerating lead service line replacement, and new educational and engagement materials. Read More
- The White House announced the release of 15 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), bringing the total amount sold this year to 180 million barrels. Additionally, the administration intends to repurchase crude oil for the SPR when prices are at or below about $67-$72 per barrel. Read More
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued guidance on how to become an FAA-recognized community-based organization for recreational drone flying. Relatedly, FAA approved the unsupervised flight of drones within the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site airspace, otherwise known as the New York Drone Corridor. Read More
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not renew a national hours-of-service exemption in place for over two years lapse. The exemption, first issued by FMCSA in March 2020 following the national emergency declared by President Trump in response to COVID-19, was extended and/or modified over 10 times. It gave truck drivers and carriers more flexibility to deliver shipments of livestock, medical supplies, vaccines, groceries and diesel fuel by waiving hours of service restrictions. Read More
- The Surface Transportation Board established the Office of Passenger Rail, which will be responsible for investigating and analyzing instances of “substandard” on-time performance on Amtrak and prescribing relief where possible. Read more
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next month to fill you in on other pressing federal news!
Kristen and Ben