Monday, August 3, 2015

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For

Steve Helber, AP Photo
U.S. House members began their summer recess following last Wednesday's votes, not to return until September 8.  That exodus leaves only the Senate in session this week.  Below are the only two Senate activities currently scheduled for the week that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources.  Links are provided to the relevant committee web pages. Many Congressional proceedings are webcast live, and these may be, as well (follow the respective meeting or hearing link).  All times are Eastern.  This information will be updated as warranted. 

Tuesday
  • Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing entitled, “Oversight of Litigation at the Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife Service: Impacts on the U.S. Economy, States, Local Communities and the Environment;” 9:30 AM, room 406 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Thursday
  • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management hearing on "Agency Progress in Retrospective Review of Existing Regulations," including testimony from and questioning of executive staff from the Department of Interior, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of Agriculture; 9:00 AM, room 342, Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Friday, July 31, 2015

New USGS On-Line Water Quality Tool Reports on Mississippi River Basin - Relative Nutrient Loading from Tributaries


The U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program  has launched a new online graphical data tool to provide data on national ambient water-quality conditions by annually summarizing nutrient and sediment concentrations and loads, along with flow information for 106 river and stream sites across the country, including in the Mississippi River Basin. NAWQA Program Chief William Wilber reports that the tool can be used to:
  • compare recent water-quality conditions to long-term conditions (1993-2013) at each site,
  • download water-quality data sets (streamflow, concentrations, and loads), and
  • evaluate nutrient loading to coastal areas and large tributaries throughout the Mississippi River Basin.
Graphical summaries are available for river and stream sites monitored as part of the USGS National Water-Quality Network for Streams and Rivers, which includes sites in the NAWQA Program, the National Stream-Quality Accounting Network, the Cooperative Water Program, and the National Water-Quality Monitoring Council National Monitoring Network.

The monitoring information will be updated annually to provide water resource managers with timely information to track how loading and concentrations change over time in response to nutrient reduction actions.  USGS plans to incorporate pesticide data into future updates.

Persons should contact William Wilber (telephone: (703) 648-6878; email: wgwilber@usgs.gov) with questions or feedback regarding the online tool or any other components of the NAWQA Program.

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~

This Week and Next
On Tuesday, the U.S. House passed H.R. 427, the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act" by a vote of 243 – 165. Under the REINS Act, federal agencies would be required to submit major rules with an annual economic
AP photo
impact of $100 million or greater to Congress for approval. Two Democrats, Reps. Colin Peterson (MN) and Henry Cuellar (TX), joined a unanimous Republican block in voting for the bill's passage. The legislation now goes to the Senate. This marks the third time in four years that the House has passed the REINS Act. This time, however, the bill could also see Senate action, since that chamber is now controlled by Republicans. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, stating, "there is no justification for such an unprecedented requirement."

House members began their summer recess (running through September 7) a day early, following Wednesday evening votes.  And while the Senate is scheduled to be in session through August 7, expect to see Senators also push to leave town earlier than that, after they consider next week a bill to defund Planned Parenthood and officially punt a cybersecurity bill until September. The House exodus also means that there are only two Senate committee hearings currently scheduled for next week that relate to Mississippi River Basin natural resources, and you can find those detailed here.

Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week

Water Quality -
  • Interior Department's proposed stream protection rule published in Monday's Federal Register,
    Source: USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program
    kicking off a 60-day comment period http://1.usa.gov/1RZ0UdC. Public hearings on the proposal will be held starting in September in Charleston, West Virginia; Denver, Colorado; Lexington, Kentucky; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Republican lawmakers ask Interior Department to extend comment period for newly proposed stream protection rule http://ow.ly/QgZ1j
  • USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program's new annual web-based reporting system of stream and river water quality is now on-line http://ow.ly/Qk8aF (see the "Mississippi River Basin - Relative Nutrient Loading from Tributaries" section here: http://ow.ly/Qk8GN)
  • Des Moines Water Works reports spending $1.5 million since December to remove nitrogen largely from agricultural operations from source waters in order to meet  drinking water standards http://bit.ly/1D67OXv
  • US EPA finalizes its disapproval of Louisiana’s 2014 decisions not to list 43 water quality limited water body segments to the 2014 Louisiana Section 303(d) list of impaired waters http://ow.ly/QdYac
  • Federal judge in Louisiana reopens litigation and sets brief filing timetable on whether U.S. EPA must set water quality standards for the Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" http://ow.ly/Q99Kz
  • Illinois releases Final State Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy to reduce pollution loading to Illinois waters and the Gulf of Mexico http://ow.ly/Q8Wi8
  • EPA revises, re-issues draft water quality criteria for protecting aquatic life from adverse effects of selenium http://ow.ly/Q8sck (see related story below)
  • EPA and environmental groups remain at odds over selenium water quality standards http://ow.ly/Qc154
  • Elimination of mercury monitoring program means Louisiana lacks fresh information about contaminated waters http://ow.ly/Q7PrW
  • Immigrants in the Midwest - who rely heavily on fish for their diets - often don't realize the threat posed by mercury contamination http://ow.ly/Qegf9
  • In Minnesota farm country, tainted water is 'just the way it is' http://ow.ly/PJYqt
  • MPR News: Minnesota rain gardens go big to fight pollution, reuse water http://ow.ly/Q7QWz
  • North Dakota Departments of Health and Agriculture issue blue-green algae advisory http://ow.ly/Q8IGW
  • "Brain-eating" Naegleria fowleri amoeba has been found in tap water in St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana http://ow.ly/Q8S1O
  • U.S. health officials confirm presence of 'brain-eating' amoeba in water supply of several communities near New Orleans http://ow.ly/QkcGq
  • Ohio EPA issues new guidelines for warning residents of toxins from algae in drinking water http://ow.ly/QbKpO
  • Environmental groups ask federal appeals courts to force U.S. EPA to respond to petitions asking the agency to revoke West Virginia's and Kentucky's Clean Water Act permitting authority http://ow.ly/Q8SPQ
  • Kentucky man wants to sue state over pollution from mountaintop removal mining sites http://ow.ly/QkdQl
Waters of the United States Rule
  • Conservation groups file lawsuit challenging industry exemptions in “waters of the United States” rule; press release: http://ow.ly/Q7SYl and link to petition: http://ow.ly/Q7T5g
  • Federal judicial panel consolidates 12 lawsuits challenging EPA's Clean Water Rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit http://ow.ly/QhCjH
  • 31 states request that U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers delay “Waters of the US” rule effective date http://ow.ly/Qk6e1
  • Op-ed: Obama Administration Clean Water Rule follows Sen. Howard H. Baker's vision of stewardship http://ow.ly/Q86jZ
  • U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers will not issue new guidance to their regional offices to help implement new Clean Water Rule http://ow.ly/Qk3aP
  • Army Corps of Engineers experts disagreed with Administration on scope of, basis for waters of the U.S rule http://ow.ly/QaTBz
  • U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy: EPA addressed concerns raised by the Army Corps of Engineers about administration's water rule http://ow.ly/QgUjz
  • House Oversight Committee looks into allegations that EPA and Army Corps disagreed over development of clean water rule http://ow.ly/Qkd9A
  • Chair of Senate EPW Committee says that Army Corps memos support case against waters of the U.S. rule http://ow.ly/QaO4O (link to related Sen. Inhofe letter here: http://ow.ly/QaNOd) (see related Agri-Pulse story, below)
  • Internal memos that the Army Corps of Engineers turned over to a Senate committee said to undermine WOTUS rule http://ow.ly/Qe9L9
  • Montana Standard op-ed by Montana Trout Unlimited: "EPA regs clarify Clean Water Act" http://ow.ly/Qe3VX
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Kansas farmers are confronting the reality that the famed Ogallala Aquifer could soon run dry
    http://ow.ly/QaJRZ
  • Nebraska's unique system for managing its groundwater is catching the eye of other states that are running dry http://ow.ly/QaPNl
  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) urges EPA to veto St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project along Mississippi River http://ow.ly/QihFa (letter here: http://ow.ly/Qi8yW and press release here: http://ow.ly/QicSp)
  • U.S. Geological Survey analyzes wetlands in the North Dakota section of the Prairie Pothole Region in "Land use and wetland drainage affect water levels and dynamics of remaining wetlands" http://ow.ly/Q98D4
  • First survey of U.S. fracking well depths shows shallow fracking is more widespread than previously thought, at the same depth of known water sources http://ow.ly/Q7Zlq
  • GAO reports on Army Corps of Engineers' efforts to assess the impact of extreme weather events http://ow.ly/Q8Jby
  • How would downstream Mississippi River Basin communities and ecosystems in southeastern Wisconsin and northeast Illinois fare if Waukesha switches to Lake Michigan water? http://ow.ly/QeJRW
  • Oklahoma to use $131,575 USEPA grant to produce a wetlands status report and implement a wetlands monitoring program http://ow.ly/QgXvO
Agriculture -
  • USDA's NRCS is proposing to update some of the National Handbook of Conservation
    Hops
    Practices; public has until August 20 to comment http://ow.ly/Qb30F
  • Op-ed: "Farm and Food: Water problems flow down to Secretary Vilsack" http://ow.ly/Q82aX
  • As craft beer industry grows, Iowa farmers are noticing, and some are switching acres from corn and soy to hops http://ow.ly/QaQ1d
  • Net incomes for Midwest grain farms are sinking to some of their lowest levels ever; data summary and ramifications http://ow.ly/Qezep
  • USDA-NRCS makes fiscal year 2014 updates to its Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act Interactive Data Viewer available online http://ow.ly/PKxgH
  • USDA to survey 24,000 farmers on conservation practices in first phase of National Resources Inventory-Conservation Effects Assessment Project http://ow.ly/Q8H4Q
  • USDA "Innovation Challenge" to explore how climate change impacts US food system, with goal of achieving better food resiliency http://ow.ly/Q8Kow
  • Iowa Farmers Look to Conservation, Voluntary Practices as Water Lawsuit Progresses http://ow.ly/Q96yR
  • American Farm Bureau Federation study: “seemingly small irritations” of rail inefficiencies cut farmers’ 2014 profits http://ow.ly/QgSd3
  • Illinois Department of Agriculture seeks  research, education, and on-farm demonstration project proposals through Sustainable Agriculture Grant Program http://ow.ly/QgWYh
Climate and Weather -
  • US drought update: local storms over past week mitigated dry soil conditions in west central Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, and northwest Iowa http://ow.ly/wmTdv
  • NOAA Climate Prediction Center monthly drought outlook for August (to be published on Friday afternoonhttp://ow.ly/q3yAx
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Conservationists: Endangered Species Act under increased attack by lawmakers who aim to
    Click to enlarge
    restrict wildlife protection http://ow.ly/Q7Rlk
  • States and the federal government are searching for ways to protect managed bees and their wild counterparts http://ow.ly/QeA9D (see related map to right)
  • South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission will decide whether to lift bald eagle state endangered species protections in August http://ow.ly/QbJO8
  • Zebra mussels found attached to boat exiting Belle Fourche Reservoir in western South Dakota (Missouri River Basin) http://ow.ly/Qk6L4
  • Birds disappearing from Metairie canal (Louisiana), Humane Society says http://ow.ly/Q7RVz
  • Work on a pollinator protection plan for Wisconsin will begin with a stakeholder meeting http://ow.ly/Q8HQz
  • DNR's scientific and natural areas give visitors a glimpse of what Minnesota looked like before European settlement http://ow.ly/Q97of
  • Researchers: mountain lions are recolonizing the Midwest a century after hunting and prey shortages limited their range http://ow.ly/Q99lu
  • Demand for conservation seed, both native and non-native, is growing, but sources are limited http://ow.ly/QbJbf
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources updates to Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Management and Wildlife Action plans open for public comment http://ow.ly/Qfl4M
In the Cities -
  • Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still experiencing related damage http://ow.ly/Qe2WF
  • St. Croix County set to buy 53.29 acres of undeveloped land along St. Croix River in St. Joseph  for natural, low-impact recreation http://ow.ly/QeIU5
In the States-
  • Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will consider a special August legislative session to provide disaster relief to a premier walleye fishing lake's resorts if the walleye season closes early http://ow.ly/QdWEf
  • Wisconsin's budget bill contains a "grab bag of anti-conservation policy" http://ow.ly/PK5Tj
  • Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources is reorganizing, with some water regulation functions transferred to a "one-stop shop for business assistance" unit http://ow.ly/QecEf
  • After seven months, the legislative sausage-making process to put in place a new Illinois state budget has hit a wall http://ow.ly/Q9bI3
  • Pennsylvania budget negotiators find a “better understanding” of differences, but no final product http://ow.ly/Q8HAW
  • Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to issue $62.6 million in budget cuts and fund transfers to shore up state cash reserves http://ow.ly/QkcaN
  • Kansas' cash balance could be even smaller next June than lawmakers realized when they approved a tax plan in June http://ow.ly/Q94T6
  • North Dakota corporate farming measure likely headed to ballot in 2016 http://ow.ly/PJXib
  • In the Arkansas state legislature, more farmers, fewer lawyers making laws http://ow.ly/Q8qNn
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • Louisiana, federal government argue over who pays for Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet
    restoration in court filings http://ow.ly/QaIGw
  • "Epic" West Coast port congestion steers Asian ships and cargo to Gulf and East coast ports http://ow.ly/PKh7h
  • Desperate $68 billion plan to save Louisiana, the sinking state, from going under http://ow.ly/Q90SZ
  • New method may help engineers determine coastal impact of dams and levees http://ow.ly/Q919U
  • Ecosystem Services Viewer captures value of three Gulf of Mexico habitats: salt marsh, mangroves, and oyster reefs http://ow.ly/Q93Wu
  • Louisiana: BP Given 30 days to pay $1 Billion in settlements to local governments across the Gulf Coast http://ow.ly/QaIdH
  • Trio of sea-level rise, storm surge and heavy rainfall exposes coastal cities to potentially catastrophic flooding http://ow.ly/QaSf2 (study: http://ow.ly/QaShu)
  • Louisiana state Senate committees discuss plans for spending $8.9 billion from BP oil spill http://ow.ly/QaSMn
  • Louisiana governor’s new coastal director warns against diverting coastal restoration funds to other uses http://ow.ly/QdRoX
Resource Development -
  • Officials from Nebraska and Iowa warn cuts to the Renewable Fuels Standard will harm their states' economies http://ow.ly/Q80cv
  • Governors of Iowa and Missouri urge U.S. EPA to set robust renewable fuel targets http://ow.ly/QfkaV
  • Multi-state group of opponents seeks to block crude oil pipeline from North Dakota to as far as the Gulf coast http://ow.ly/Q8M1s
  • For Illinois farmers, the impacts from underground coal mining can last for decades http://ow.ly/Q9cq9
  • Judge sets October 19 trial date for Keystone pipeline eminent domain challenge in Nebraska http://ow.ly/QbcPp
  • Three Iowa landowners sue Iowa Utilities Board over agency's granting eminent domain for building proposed Bakken crude oil pipeline http://ow.ly/QdXkG
  • Opposing sides in the debate over Keystone XL oil pipeline face off before South Dakota regulatory panel http://ow.ly/Qbdlh
  • NY Times: Can Montana’s Smith River survive a nearby copper mine? http://ow.ly/QbDZL
  • National Wildlife Federation files notice of intent to sue U.S. Department of Transportation over oil pipeline oversight failures and their impacts on surface waters http://ow.ly/QbZN5
Federal Budget (You can follow the status of all of the fiscal year 2016 appropriation bills on this Congress.gov web page) -
  • Senate Democrats are refusing to allow votes on spending bills that do not lift the budget caps under sequestration http://ow.ly/Q8vkG
  • Treasury Secretary Jack Lew: Lawmakers will likely have at least until the end of October to raise the nation’s borrowing limit http://ow.ly/QgTpW
Events - Information on all past and future events listed here each week can be viewed in the on-line calendar, located above and to the right (and here as a stand-alone calendar)
  • Upper Mississippi River Basin Association posts its August 4-5, meeting packets,
    Click to enlarge
    including agendas and background materials; Onalaska/La Crosse, Wisconsin http://ow.ly/Q9286
  • Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Forest Workshop, Sept 15-17, Holiday Inn - Dubuque, Iowa. Register here: http://ow.ly/QbxxH (agenda to the right)
  • Mississippi River Commission public meetings, 9 AM CT, August 14-21, on board MISSISSIPPI V at City Front, Cape Girardeau, Missouri (August 14), Mud Island Landing, Memphis, Tennessee (August 17),  Lake Village, Arkansas (August 19),  City Dock above the USS Kidd in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (August 21) http://ow.ly/Q8xNN
  • Duquesne University Presidential Conference on the Integrity of Creation: Climate Change, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, Pittsburgh, PA http://ow.ly/QaKO4
  • Wisconsin Wetlands Association 21st Annual Wetland Science Conference, February 23-25, 2016, Radisson Hotel and Conference Center, Green Bay, Wisconsin http://ow.ly/QfrJf
  • Save the dates: National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration, April 18-22, 2016, Coral Springs, FL http://ow.ly/QbsAA
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
Other news-
  • Report: Over half of Land and Water Conservation Fund spending over past four years has
    supported local and state projects, not acquisition of new federal lands http://ow.ly/QaOSf
  • Beloved Iowa farm headed for auction http://ow.ly/Q81G2
  • 15% of U.S. adults (24% in rural areas) do not use Internet, according to Pew Research Center analysis of survey data http://ow.ly/QeaIx
  • H.R. 427, the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act" passed by the House on July 28 by a vote of 243 – 165 http://ow.ly/QdROt
  • Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus introduces bill reauthorizing hunting and angling-friendly programs, including North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Federal Land Transaction Facilitation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation http://ow.ly/Q8NwQ
  • Paddle out to The Floating Library: You won't need a library card to visit this one-of-a-kind spot in Minnesota, but you will need a boat http://ow.ly/Q977G
  • Position: Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Natural Resource Social Science Lab, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN http://ow.ly/Q9drT
  • Republicans sound alarm about deluge of "midnight regulations" that could be pushed through in waning days of Obama administration http://ow.ly/Q9eib
  • Justice Department's environment division announces new position to foster better relationships with state and local governments http://ow.ly/Q9fm5
  • NOAA releases Chemical Aquatic Fate and Effects (CAFE) database, estimates  fate and effects of thousands of chemicals, oils, and dispersants http://ow.ly/QgYnN
  • Canoe-sharing service could connect points within 72-mile-long Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in 2016 http://ow.ly/Qi81Z
Politics and People-
  • Illinois state Sen. Tom Cullerton drops bid for Illinois’ open 8th District U.S. House seat http://ow.ly/Qk0LI
  • U.S. Water Alliance names Radhika Fox, the head of a water infrastructure investment campaign, as new president http://ow.ly/Q98Wi
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: How Pennsylvania's gas industry gained influence with the Corbett administration http://ow.ly/QaRNj
  • Four state Farm Bureau presidents have expressed interest in taking over as the next leader of the national office http://ow.ly/PKglF
  • Jim Stump, longtime professor at Bethel College, Indiana, resigns "because God said otherwise” on the topic of evolution http://ow.ly/Q7Nc2
Your Moment of Zen -

What We Learned This Week - "And that's the way it is"

The House sought to "rein in" the Obama administration's regulatory machine by passing a new  bill that the White House doesn't like.  EPA revised and re-issued draft water quality criteria for protecting aquatic life from the adverse effects of selenium, but environmental groups still aren't enamoured with it.  The Interior Department officially kicked off a 60-day comment period on its proposed stream protection rule, which the coal industry casts as threat to dwindling jobs.  In Minnesota farm country, tainted water is "just the way it is."  Illinois Senator Dick Durbin urged the EPA to veto the controversial St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project along the Mississippi River in Missouri.  The EPA made official its disapproval of a Louisiana decision last year not to list 43 water quality-impaired water bodies as impaired.  Army Corps of Engineers experts disagreed with the Obama administration on the scope of and basis for the new waters of the U.S rule, and the EPA said that it addressed the Army Corps' concerns. The Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee used Army Corps' memos expressing those concerns to attack the basis for the clean water rule.  Kansas farmers are beginning to face the harsh reality that the overused Ogallala Aquifer will someday run dry, and neighboring Nebraska uses a groundwater management approach that might help.  After being "missing in action" for more than a century, mountain lions are recolonizing the Midwest.  Also missing in action: Illinois and Pennsylvania state budgets for the fiscal year that began on July 1.  Crude oil pipeline eminent domain challenges took center stage in Nebraska and Iowa. And last but not least, Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources is reorganizing, in part to appease a Republican-controlled state Legislature.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sen. Durbin Urges U.S. EPA Veto of Contentious Mississippi River Levee Project

Click to enlarge
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote a July 30 letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy and the Council on Environmental Quality urging the EPA to use Clean Water Act authority to stop the controversial St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project along the Mississippi River in Missouri. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project would reduce flood impacts on small communities and a large area of agricultural land behind the levee system, by cutting off the Mississippi River from the only area in Missouri where the River has significant connection with its natural floodplain. The $165 million project has been the subject of legal action and the focus of heated debate among its supporters and detractors since it was first proposed in the 1950s. Proponents and the Army Corps maintain that its benefits outweigh the loss of the wetlands, and opponents - including scientists, taxpayer advocates and environmentalists - argue that the levee will sever one of the River’s few remaining natural flows, and destroy critical fish-spawning and birding habitat.

“The St. Johns Bayou New Madrid Floodway project is in direct conflict with the Clean Water Act and this Administration’s commitment to wetlands protection, wildlife conservation, and modern flood risk management,” Durbin wrote in the letter. “I urge EPA to veto this project to protect the environment and the safety and well-being of Illinoisans.”

The EPA can initiate a Clean Water Act, Section 404(c) “veto” of a project if it determines that a proposed permit activity is likely to result in significant loss of or damage to fisheries, shellfishing, wildlife habitat, or recreation areas.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Capitol Hill This Week - What to Watch For (UPDATED)

Below are the U.S. House and Senate activities currently scheduled for this week that relate to Mississippi River Basin natural resources. As the House moves into its last week before a long, five-week recess, its members seek to reach agreement with the Senate on an extension of highway funding before the existing authorization expires this Friday (the Senate is in session two more weeks).  Projects funded under that authority include pedestrian and bicycle trails, and scenic byways near streams and rivers.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday will consider several bills, including an Energy Policy Modernization Act that would in part permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, adding spending set-asides for recreation purposes and requiring federal officials to consider conservation easements (meeting details below).  The Land and Water Conservation Fund Program provides matching grants to States and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities, as well as funding for shared federal land acquisition and conservation strategies.

On Tuesday, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 427, the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act," a bill requiring that "major rules of the executive branch shall have no force or effect unless a joint resolution of approval is enacted into law."

Links are provided to the relevant committee web pages and appropriate pieces of legislation. Many Congressional proceedings are webcast live, and these may be, as well (follow the respective meeting or hearing link). All times are Eastern. This information will be updated as warranted. 

Monday
  • House Rules Committee meeting to set the rules for full House consideration of H.R. 427, the "Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act," requiring that "major rules of the executive branch shall have no force or effect unless a joint resolution of approval is enacted into law;" 5:00 PM, room H-313 The Capitol.
Tuesday
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources oversight hearing on "Federal Implementation of the Coastal Zone Management Act," including a discussion of the level of national preparedness for sea level rise; 10:00 AM, room 1334 Longworth House Office Building.
  • Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee business meeting to consider several bills, including the Energy Policy Modernization Act (permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund), and S. 593, to require the Department of Interior to submit to Congress a report on the efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation to manage its infrastructure assets; 10:00 AM, room 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing on law enforcement policies and tactics in the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service, 10:30 AM, room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee policy discussion roundtable on "Innovations in Pipeline Technology;" 10:30 AM, room 2167 Rayburn House Office Building.
Wednesday
  • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing examining "cases of employee misconduct and the manner in which they were handled by Environmental Protection Agency senior management;" 9:00 AM, room 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.
  • House Natural Resources Committee hearing on Federal agencies' "selective enforcement" of consultation under the Endangered Species Act; 10:00 AM, room 1324 Longworth House Office Building.
  • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee business meeting to markup several regulatory reform bills, including S. 779, the "Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act," S. 708. the "Regulatory Improvement Act," S. 1607, the "Independent Agency Regulatory Analysis Act," S. 1817, the "Smarter Regulations Through Advance Planning and Review Act," and S. 1820, the "Early Participation in Regulations Act;" 10:00 AM, room 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Monday, July 27, 2015

WOTUS - The Next Chapter (UPDATED July 27)

Wikimedia Commons Photo: Lowell Rothschild
On June 29, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers published the final Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule (a/k/a “Waters of the United States” or "WOTUS" rule) in the Federal Register.  The rule is now set to become effective on August 28.

Beyond the predictable rhetoric, the impending effective date has spurred both legal and legislative challenges seeking to block the rule's implementation.   As if on cue, on the morning of June 29, the attorneys general of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and in the and 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the rule, arguing that it “is an unconstitutional and impermissible expansion of federal power over the states and their citizens and property owners” (read the complaint and petition for review here). Later in the day, 13 other states filed their own anti-WOTUS suit (link to the complaint here) in U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota (Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming) claiming the rule violates the Clean Water Act.   Ohio and Michigan filed a suit on Monday afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus, arguing that the rule's definition of a tributary would "include almost every conceivable water tributary in the country," according to a press release from the Ohio Attorney General.

On June 30, attorneys general from nine more states sued to stop the water rule in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. That group of states included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. That latter complaint (found here) begins by arguing that the "case involves an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the States' primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands."

On July 8, the Attorney General for Oklahoma filed a legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma against the EPA's Clean Water Rule, arguing that the measure violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Clean Water Act, the 10th Amendment and the Commerce Clause.  This suit brought the states'  lawsuit total to 28.

In addition to the states, other organizations have filed suit to block the rule. Private challenges have been filed by Murray Energy Corp. (N.D. W.Va. No. 1:15-cv-00110 - filed June 29), by a coalition of national organizations (S.D. Tex. No. 3:15-cv-00165 - filed July 2), and by several business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, Portland Cement Association, State Chamber of Oklahoma and Tulsa Regional Chamber (N.D. Okla. No. 4:15-cv-00386-JED-PJC - filed July 10).

At the end of the day, these various states' and others' lawsuits may be consolidated. Although it is likely that the courts will take their time deciding how and to where the eventual litigation will be consolidated. Deciding which court finally considers any consolidated suit is not unimportant, as judges in more conservative Districts may be more inclined to side with the states.

At the other end of the clean water rule spectrum, the Waterkeeper Alliance has asserted that the rule doesn't cover enough waters, and on July 22, that organization, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Humboldt Baykeeper, Russian Riverkeeper, Monterey Coastkeeper, Snake River Waterkeeper, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed a petition (which will be finalized later) with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California challenging the rule's categorical and "arbitrary" exemptions for some industries.

On the legislative front, on June 10, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved S. 1140 - a bill that would effectively require the withdrawal of the rule and directs the EPA and Army Corps to seek input from states in drafting a new proposal.  Three Mississippi River Basin Democrats, Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (NE) and Joe Manchin (WV), are the only members of their party to co-sponsor the bill, and while it's possible that the legislation could gain the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate, it’s doubtful that 67 votes could be lined up to overturn an expected Presidential veto.  In May the House easily passed H.R. 1732 (the "Regulatory Integrity Protection Act of 2015"), which would also block implementation of the rule, but differs from the Senate bill.   Should the Senate bill pass, those differences would have to be resolved.

Both the House and Senate versions of their fiscal year 2016 Interior and Environment spending bills approved in committee include a rider that would block the administration from implementing its WOTUS rule. The White House threatened to veto both bills for a variety of reasons related to funding cuts and and policy riders. The House was poised to pass H.R. 2822, its Interior and Environment spending measure, during the week of July 6. However, House Republican leaders canceled late-week votes on the bill following an intra-party split over a Confederate flag display amendment.  House Appropriations Committee leaders believe that the bill is now dead for all intents and purposes. The Senate has yet to schedule floor time for its bill; although Senate Democrats have promised to block all Republican spending measures until the parties can renegotiate discretionary spending caps presently in place.

On July 7, Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE) filed a Congressional Review Act (CRA) challenge to vacate the EPA's clean water rule: H. J. Res. 59.  Only one CRA challenge has ever successfully passed Congress and became law, so its successful use is a steep legislative hill to climb, especially in the face of a likely Presidential veto.  For details on how Congressional Review Act challenges work, you can read this Congressional Research Service July 29 report on alternatives available to Congress to address the WOTUS rule issue.