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 Kristen Hildreth (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Recess is Over, Congress Coming Back to Washington – What Should You Expect?
Congress is expected to begin taking up major legislation during its return to Washington, DC this week, these are some of the key item’s that NCSL expects to take center stage this fall:
- Farm Bill: Congress will continue to work on drafting , though its passage is expected to be delayed past the Sept. 30 expiration date. Agriculture Committee leaders have indicated that they expect it to be completed by the end of the year, but that an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill
- FAA Reauthorization: Congress will continue to work on passing a five-year reauthorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration and related appropriations. Prior to the August recess, the House of Representatives the . The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation in the coming months. The two chambers will likely have to reconcile legislative differences before it is sent to the president’s desk.
- Disaster Relief Fund: As FEMA’s disaster relief funding runs out, Congress will consider appropriating additional supplemental funding. Legislation that would provide FEMA with has already been introduced in both chambers, however the spending limits within the may be a barrier. The White House has requested $16 billion in supplemental funding.
Be sure to stay tuned for updates from NCSL as these and other legislation moves forward.
FEMA Disaster Relief Fund Dwindling – President Requests Supplemental, Pending Bills in Congress
By the end of this month, it is estimated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will exhaust its disaster relief funding and enter a deficit, unless Congress authorizes additional funding. This agency funding crisis comes during the height of the wildfire and hurricane seasons, and the lack of resources will be detrimental to communities who seek aid from the nation’s premier disaster response agency as it may lead to delayed post-disaster recovery. FEMA aid is primarily used for post-disaster mitigation, and it can be used to repair or rebuild essential infrastructure after emergencies declared by the president. The number of declared disasters FEMA has responded to over the past decade has risen by over 190%. FEMA’s funding shortages can be largely attributed to the climbing costs of natural disasters that are stronger, happening more frequently and in more areas that do not typically experience these types of events.
To account for the shortfall, the White House has requested a supplemental funding request of $16 billion for disaster relief – an increase from its $12 billion request earlier in August. Congress is poised to address FEMA’s funding gap in the coming months as legislation is pending in both Chambers.
Post-Sackett Waters of the United States Rulemaking Announced
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a revised Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rulemaking seeking to redefine which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The rulemaking follows the Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, where they narrowed the federal government’s interpretation of which wetlands and waterways may be considered “waters of the United States” and thus protected by the CWA. The Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, as the rule is known, aims to determine the scope of federal authority to regulate such water, and when states, local governments and others must seek federal permits to develop land because it contains such waters. The court ruled that the previous interpretation of WOTUS was too broad and created a narrower “test” to determine what waters qualify under the CWA. Under the decision, only wetlands with a “continuous surface connection,” or those that are “indistinguishable” from larger streams, lakes and rivers, can qualify.
EPA’S revised rulemaking amends the "Revised Definition of 'Waters of the United States'" to conform to key aspects of the regulatory text with SCOTUS’ decision. The rulemaking keeps the following categories as jurisdictional waters: traditional navigable waters, territorial seas, interstate waters, impoundments, tributaries and adjacent wetlands, but removes the significant nexus test from consideration when identifying tributaries and other waters as federally protected. It also revises the adjacency test when identifying federally jurisdictional wetlands, clarifies that interstate wetlands do not fall within the interstate waters category and clarifies the types of features that can be considered under the “additional waters” category. The rulemaking will go into effect as soon as it is published in the Federal Register, and like previous iterations, is anticipated to be challenged in court. More information can be found here.
Permitting Reform Moves Along – More Action Expected
Over the summer the administration took steps to implement two major permitting reforms. The White House Council on Environmental Quality released the second phase of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reforms and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced Improvements to Generator Interconnection Procedures and Agreements final rule.
The second phase of NEPA reforms aim to “revise, update and modernize” parts of the rulemaking, bringing it into compliance with provisions outlined in the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023. The proposed rule clarifies what sort of projects require environmental impact statements, encourages programmatic environmental reviews to expedite completion of projects and gives agencies the ability to establish joint categorical exclusions. It also works to reverse the NEPA permitting changes made by the Trump Administration, including rescinding detailed and onerous requirements on what public comments must contain to be considered by agencies. Two virtual public meetings will be held on Sept. 11 and 21, 2023. The public comment period is open until Sept. 29, 2023.
Relatedly, in an effort to increase the nation’s energy supply, FERC’s final rule seeks to change how and the speed at which energy projects are connected to the nation’s electrical grid. The rule’s strategies for increasing the speed of the permitting process include moving away from the first-come, first-serve model and instead prioritize projects based on readiness, implementing firm deadlines and penalties for grid and utility operators who fail to process connection requests within a specified timeframe, and studying projects in groups rather than individually. The rule also establishes wind and solar performance standards and creates standard small and large facility interconnection procedures and agreements. The rule’s goal is to help maximize interconnection efficiencies to help ease the backlog of energy projects that are waiting to be brought online. FERC is also currently considering a rule that would help minimize the time it takes to plan and build transmission powerlines. The potential rule could help encourage transmission powerline development by clarifying which parties are responsible for payment when this infrastructure is being built across multiple states. Increases in the amount of operable transmission powerlines is considered key to bringing more renewable energy sources online.
Energy Efficiency Regulations Remain Source of Contention, DOE Proceeds with Rulemaking
Energy efficiency regulations for household appliances, ranging from gas stoves to water heaters, have been a congressional point of focus over the past few months in light of administrative action. The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued final rules for water heater efficiency standards, the incandescent light bulb ban recently went into effect, and there have been proposed rule changes for both gas stoves and ceiling fans. These regulations, for the most part, focus on setting maximum energy consumption standards to help reduce consumer’s electricity and fuel consumption and costs. These actions have elicited congressional action including a hearing in the House on the gas stove regulations and legislation to block some of these regulations. We’ve also seen the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) wood-burning stove standards prompt litigation to block its implementation by 10 states. The debate over energy efficiency standards is likely to continue, and NCSL will continue to track and monitor the state of play.
Residential Solar Grant Program Announced - $7 Billion Available
The EPA announced $7 billion for the Residential Solar Grant Program, funded via the Inflation Reduction Act, will award 60 grants to create and expand low-income solar programs and increase access to solar power in disadvantaged communities. Specifically, the funds are intended to reduce household electric costs (the program guarantees a minimum of 20% in electricity bill savings for participating households), create an influx of new jobs, and further environmental justice and Justice40 goals. More information about the Residential Solar Grant program can be found on the EPA’s website and in the Notice of Funding Opportunity. The competitive grant application closes on Sept. 26, 2023.
Updated Fuel Economy Standards for Passenger Cars and Light Trucks Proposed
The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed updated fuel economy standards for passenger cars, pickups and work vans. These standards, which would begin affecting 2027 models, seek to increase Corporate Average Fuel Economy each year through 2032. This would be an annual increase of 2% for cars and 4% for light trucks. The rule intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage fuel conservation, cut costs for American consumers, promote American manufacturing and support American energy independence. These proposed standards align with the EPA’s proposed emissions standards that were released in April. The comment period closes on Oct. 16, 2023.
Short but Sweet, More News Below!
In an effort to help reverse the growing trend of producer consolidation in food production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $115 million in grants in June for small meat and poultry producers and operators.
EPA rejected stakeholder petitions for the development of regulations mandating water pollution permits for large livestock farms, citing previous Circuit Court rejections of similar regulations and farm systems that are used to address livestock pollution. The EPA is expected to conduct additional reviews of its concentrated animal feeding operations policies.
The DOE announced $207 million in Grid Resilience States and Tribal Formula Grants in July. These funds are intended to help nine states and three tribal governments undertake electric grid modernization to reduce the impacts of natural disasters and ensure power sector reliability.
The EPA released a proposed amendment to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, which would largely affect oil and gas operators starting in January 2025. The change is intended to address gaps and improve the accuracy of emissions reporting.
The Biden administration has deployed a $1 billion initiative to build demand and promote the purchase and use of clean hydrogen to support the success of the technology.
An Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge has ordered the EPA to halt implementation of its cybersecurity rule for water utilities following litigation brought by the American Water Works Association and the National Rural Water Association.
Two joint resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act related to attempting to overturn federal endangered species protections for the lesser prairie chicken and the northern long-eared bat were vetoed.
The Federal Railroad Administration announced grant funding for states that lack intercity passenger rail service, or are not connected to the national rail system.
What is Happening at NCSL?
- NCSL Foundation Partnership Explores Gas Tax Alternatives. Gas taxes make up the largest share of state transportation revenue, but that revenue is declining due to the proliferation of electric and more fuel-efficient vehicles. The NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures is discussing and studying other sources to pay for transportation, to access recent presentations from the 2023 meetings please visit the NCSL’s website.
- NCSL has released an updated summary on Carbon Monoxide Detector Installation Statutes, to Continue Reading please visit the NCSL website.