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.
Legislative Proposals to Streamline Permitting Released
Following congressional approval of both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act in August this year, Congress is now focusing on reforming the infrastructure permitting process. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released his permitting reform bill following an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the IRA. Though not included in the continuing resolution, it is possible that permitting reform is enacted in December, during the lame duck session. Separately, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) released a permitting reform bill that was co-sponsored by more than three-quarters of the Senate Republican Caucus. Capito’s bill varies significantly from Manchin’s, though both include major changes to the federal and state permitting processes for infrastructure projects. Stay tuned for updates as these issues move through Congress. Should Congress enact legislation, NCSL will release a detailed summary of the bill’s direct impact on states.
Manchin permitting bill text; summary.
Capito permitting bill text; summary.
Transportation Department Releases Additional $1.5B for Infrastructure Projects
The U.S. Department of Transportation selected 26 projects in 22 states and Puerto Rico, totaling $1.5 billion, in this year’s round of Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) competitive grants. The INFRA program is designated for freight and multimodal projects of national significance. The department received more than 250 applications for this year’s grants, with a requested amount of $26.5 billion, well above the available $1.5 billion, which itself was an increase of 50% from 2021 due to the additional funding included in last year’s infrastructure law.
EPA Awards $1.1B for Water Infrastructure to 18 States
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued its first significant distribution of water infrastructure funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The agency awarded capitalization grants from the state revolving funds (SRFs) to Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. As vital state-federal partnerships, the SRFs allow communities to finance a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects (Clean Water SRF) and to achieve the health protection objectives of the Safe Drinking Water Act (Drinking Water SRF). Relatedly, EPA released final waivers of the Build America, Buy America Act requirements to cover the SRFs and other agency programs.
DOT and DOE Approve Plans for EV Infrastructure Rollout
The Department of Agriculture approved plans from all 50 states, as well as D.C. and Puerto Rico, to start spending hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for electric vehicle charging stations and to establish a network to facilitate data collection, access and reliability. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Formula Program, included in last year’s infrastructure law, provides nearly $5 billion and covers up to 80% of eligible project costs.
DOE Announces $425M for States
The Department of Energy announced the availability of $425 million for the State Energy Program as part of its implementation of the infrastructure law, a tenfold increase over the usual annual appropriation. States must apply for and describe how they plan to use the funds, but the DOE stressed that states are not competing with each other for awards as amounts are determined by formula. Program funds help states expand and modernize their electric grids, improve transmission and distribution, finance clean energy technology demonstration projects, install renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency upgrades and plan for workforce development programs. The DOE will also provide targeted technical assistance to states.
DOT Provides Half a Billion Dollars to Help Fund Disaster Repairs
The Federal Highway Administration announced that it will provide $513.2 million in Emergency Relief Program funds to help 30 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico make repairs to roads and bridges damaged by storms, floods, wildfires and other events in recent years.
USDA Announces ReConnect Broadband Program Awards
The Department of Agriculture awarded $502 million in loans and grants to provide high-speed internet access for rural residents and businesses in 20 states. The latest investments come from the third funding round of the ReConnect Program. The department will make additional investments in the coming months, including funding from the federal infrastructure bill, which provides $65 billion to expand affordable, high-speed internet.
USDA Announces Over $3 Billion for Pilot Projects to Cut Carbon Emissions
The Agriculture Department announced a $2.8 billion investment in 70 pilot projects under the first pool of the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding opportunity. Projects from the second funding pool will be announced later this year. Ultimately, USDA’s anticipated investment will triple to more than $3 billion in pilots that will create market opportunities for American commodities produced using climate-smart production practices. According to the EPA, agriculture accounted for 11% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Financing will come via the Commodity Credit Corp.
Turning a Corner as Roadway Fatalities Decline in Second Quarter
An estimated 10,590 people died in car crashes from April through June, a decrease of 4.9% from the same period in 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatalities had been increasing since the third quarter of 2020.
Federal Court Overturns Rhode Island’s Truck Tolling System
A U.S. District Court overturned Rhode Island’s roadway funding system, which tolled only out-of-state trucks, seven years after the system was put in place. Cars and trucks traveling within the state were not tolled. The lawsuit, brought by the American Trucking Association, claimed Rhode Island’s system violated the Constitution’s commerce clause by discriminating against out-of-state economic interests to favor in-state interests.
EPA Proposes Designating PFAS Chemicals as Hazardous Substances Under Superfund
The Environmental Protection Agency announced its intent to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking designating two per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals—perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS)—as hazardous substances under the Superfund law. The action is in line with the agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap. By designating the chemicals under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, as the Superfund law is formally known, the federal government may take actions at a contaminated site or transfer necessary funds and management responsibility to a state or tribe. A Superfund designation would require facilities to report on PFOA and PFOS releases that meet or exceed selected reportable quantities and would enhance the ability of federal, tribal, state and local authorities to obtain information regarding the location and extent of those releases. The designation would also allow the EPA or other agencies to recover cleanup costs from the responsible party or require said party to conduct the cleanup.
The EPA anticipates seeking public comment on designating other PFAS chemicals as Superfund hazardous substances.
Administration Proposes Reestablishes Offshore Drilling Safety Rules, Reinstates Lease Sale
The Department of the Interior proposed revisions to the 2019 Well Control Rule, which altered the original rulemaking finalized in 2016 following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. Relatedly, the department finalized an oil and gas lease sale for tracts in the Gulf of Mexico–Lease Sale 257–that had been invalidated by a federal court but reinstated by the Inflation Reduction Act.
DOE and Interior Announce Initiative to Expand Offshore Wind Energy
The Energy and Interior departments announced the Floating Offshore Wind Shot initiative aimed at expanding U.S. offshore wind energy and production. The initiative seeks to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind energy by at least 70%, to $45 per megawatt-hour by 2035 for deep sites far from shore to advance the technology. The administration had previously set a goal of installing 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035.
Senate Ratifies Amendment to Reduce Ozone-Depleting Substances
The Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, 69-27, approving a 2016 agreement that aims to phase down refrigerant chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. The amendment requires countries to reduce their use of HFCs by 85% over 15 years. The U.S. is already on track to meet that goal as the phase-down was required by the AIM Act, which was included in the 2020 omnibus spending bill.
EPA Updates Determinations for 2008 and 2015 Ozone Air-Quality Standards
The EPA announced final determinations for whether certain areas nationwide have met the 2008 or 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone, as required by the Clean Air Act. The EPA found that six nonattainment areas should be classified as “serious” for the 2008 ozone NAAQS and that 28 areas should be classified as “marginal” for the 2015 standards. For areas being reclassified, for example, from marginal to moderate, the act requires that states implement measures to protect public health and submit new plans to demonstrate how the area will attain the new classification as quickly as possible.
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 Application Period for FY22 Grid Resilience Grants
The DOE extended the application period for the FY 2022 State and Tribal Formula Grid Resilience Grants program from Sept. 30, 2022, to March 31, 2023. The $2.3 billion program is focused on strengthening and modernizing America’s power grid and will distribute funds 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.
FEMA Publishes Notice of Intent for Funding to Help States Reduce Disaster Vulnerability
The Federal Emergency Management Agency published a notice of intent to provide no less than $50 million for the new Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation Revolving Loan Fund (STORM Act RLF) program. The loans will allow states to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters, foster greater community resilience and reduce disaster suffering.
EPA Announces $170M in Brownfields Grants
The EPA announced the availability of approximately $170 million in funding for Brownfields Multipurpose, Assessment, Revolving Loan Fund, and Cleanup Grants under the fiscal year 2023 grant competitions. A brownfield is a property whose expansion, redevelopment or reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The agency anticipates awarding 198 grants nationwide at amounts ranging from $500,000 to $2 million per award.
USDOT Unveils $1.4B Rail Safety Infrastructure Grant
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced the availability of $1.4 billion for states, local governments, tribes and railroads as part of the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program. The program, which received this significant increase in funding as part of last year’s infrastructure law, is aimed at improving the safety, efficiency and reliability of both intercity passenger and freight rail. A minimum of 25% of total funding is set aside for grants to rural areas.
- The USDA proposed new regulations would strengthen competition rules in poultry and livestock markets to protect farmers and ranchers in dealing with the companies that process their products. Read more
- The USDA announced $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 White House released a new website where consumers can see which key energy provisions apply to them, including tax credits and rebates. You can sign up for updates as more programs come online.
- The DOE announced the availability of up to $4.9 billion from last year’s infrastructure law aimed at projects that capture and store carbon emissions from fossil fuel plants and heavy industries. The program is split into three funding opportunities, with the first allocating up to $2.54 billion to develop six carbon capture projects that can be replicated and scaled to power plants and heavy industrial facilities across the country. The second offers up to $2.25 billion for projects that can store and transport at least 50 million tons of carbon dioxide. Finally, the agency’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management will offer $100 million for regional CO2 pipeline designs that can safely transport captured carbon emissions from power plants and industrial facilities into storage.
- The DOE announced the availability of $7 billion for its clean hydrogen program to create six to 10 regional hubs across the country.
- The DOE announced the availability of $16 million to provide resources to communities interested in learning more about consent-based siting, management of spent nuclear fuel, and interim storage facility siting considerations. The department said it plans to fund as many as eight awardees over 18 to 24 months.
- The DOE reported that hundreds of coal power plant sites across the country could be converted to nuclear power plant sites, increasing the supply of clean electricity to the grid.
- The EPA added five sites in five states to the Superfund National Priorities List and is proposing to add two sites from two more states. A project in Pennsylvania was removed from the list as the state was determined to have cleaned the site pursuant to state authority. Read more
- The EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced the agency’s plan to craft a rulemaking to allow for permanent, year-round sales of E15 in several states. Read more
- The Council on Environmental Quality issued new rules requiring federal agencies to set annual targets for lowering the greenhouse gas emissions coming from sources they don’t directly control, known as Scope 3 emissions, which can include transmission and distribution losses from purchased electricity, solid waste disposal, wastewater treatment, and commuting and business travel. Read more
- The Interior Department issued new guidance to strengthen the role of tribal governments in the management of public lands, waters and wildlife. Read more
- The interior Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a new web portal, titled “Climate Mapping for Resilience and Adaptation,” to help federal, state, local and tribal governments as well as nonprofit organizations learn about climate hazards impacting their communities. Read more
- The EPA launched a new Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights, which will engage with community, state, tribal and local partners. Read more
- The Department of Transportation issued a new proposed rule to ensure that consumers have access to certain fee information before purchasing airline tickets. Read more
- The Senate confirmed Robin Hutcheson by voice vote to be head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates commercial trucking.
- The administration unveiled a new partnership with state governments to align clean construction policies. The effort will “expand markets for clean manufacturing and low-carbon materials across the nation’s building and infrastructure.” In November, the White House will convene a meeting with states to share knowledge and best practices. Read more
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next month to fill you in on other pressing federal news!
Kristen and Ben