Tuesday, January 25, 2011

House and Senate Environmental Committees Begin to Craft 2011 Agendas

Even though many congressional committees are still finalizing their structures organizationally, we’re starting to get some hints as to what various committee priorities might be for the upcoming year.  Based upon input from various staff members from committees doing work directly relevant to the Mississippi River Basin, here are what are shaping up to be Congressional issues of importance during the next year in those committees (committee headings are links to each committee's home page).

House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee
The Committee is technically not formed yet; having held no organizational meeting; so everything from an agenda standpoint is very tentative and based on staff discussions. 

Top priorities appear to be: 
  • The budget and the ongoing fiscal crisis will be a central issue, although it is not clear yet how the issue will all play out leading up to March 4 end of the Federal spending Continuing Resolution (see here) and with respect to the Fiscal Year 2012 budget (i.e., Will spending levels be set at FY 2008 (or even 2006) levels? Will it be left to the Administration figure out details under an imposed cap?) 
  • Earmarks – The impact of this issue is still unknown, largely because there is no agreement yet on the definition of an “earmark.”  Although not likely, at one extreme end of the spectrum, regional programs like the Chesapeake Bay or MRBI programs might be earmarks. 
So, the T&I Committee might sit back at least initially and let others work through these issues first, rather than wade in right away and put at risk important programs.  Specific issues that will likely come up during the year include: 
  1. Wastewater infrastructure/SRFs 
  2. Developing innovative, new means of generating revenue for growing water/wastewater infrastructure needs 
  3. Invasive species; ballast water regulation 
  4. Beach Act reauthorization 
  5. Great Lakes issues – GLRI/GLNPO; Legacy Act 
  6. Clean Water Act interpretation/jurisdiction 
  7. WRDA reauthorization (clouded somewhat by the earmarks issue)
  8. Water resources planning/management in light of growing demands 
  9. EPA’s use of guidance rather than regulations to set policy (and effectively set standards); guidance that might have the impact of regulation without public input (raising potential due process issues) 
  10. National Estuary Program reauthorization 
  11. Nonpoint source impact on water quality (i.e., is the USEPA 319 program the most effective way of addressing nonpoint water pollution sources?)
House Agriculture Committee
The Committee structure will become finalized in the next week or two.  Until then, priorities are tentative and include: 

  1. The Chesapeake Bay Bill (introduced last session) will likely come up again, but in light of budget constraints the bill's program costs could loom as a huge hurdle to overcome 
  2. The Committee wants to stress value of voluntary USDA NRCS programs, and is more interested in looking at voluntary rather than mandated approaches (and related money needed to fund mandate programs) 
  3. The Committee largely reflects a philosophy that the Farm Bill should be evaluated based upon its conservation programs’ abilities to meet conservation end points and abilities to give farmers “regulatory certainty” (a certainty that they do not currently have, according to what Committee members are hearing).  This issues was a point of consideration in last year’s Chesapeake Bay bill 
  4. Committee members are receiving a lot of feedback that others in the agricultural sector across the country do not want an EPA mandated Chesapeake Bay-like model replicated elsewhere 
  5. Committee staff do not believe that the earmarks issue will impact the 2012 Farm Bill discussions
  6. There will be more Farm Bill hearings this year, both in Washington, DC and in the field; quick Farm Bill consideration isn’t as critical now as it was under last Congress's Democratic leadership 
  7. Farm Bill hearings may in part focus on the number of conservation programs and whether consolidation or combination of those programs might be appropriate 
  8. The budget will be the big Farm Bill issue; and how much spending is authorized for each title  and programs within each title
  9. Don’t expect a rush to include new conservation programs in the Farm Bill; rather, the Farm Bill discussions will center on the need for money and people to effectively implement existing programs 
  10. Fine tuning and targeting of conservation efforts would help to address item #9, above
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee 
Concerns and priority issues for the Committee in 2011 will include:
  1. Defense of programs that are working well 
  2. Identification of programs that are not effective 
  3. Input and information from the ground level would help Committee do those two things 
  4. There may be informal briefings and a few hearings regarding the Executive Order establishing the GLNPO 
  5. Several programs need reauthorization: Coastal Zone Management; National Marine Sanctuaries Act 
  6. Ballast water treatment (for aquatic nuisance species) 
  7. Expect that some of the popular measures wrapped up in last year’s great waters/wilderness omnibus bill will be reintroduced as individual bills
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
The committee’s specific agenda won’t be developed for a few more weeks, as the committee and its subcommittees are being set up organizationally.  Tentatively, the Committee's agenda reflects that of the T&I Committee (above).  Top priorities include: 

  • Reauthorization of WRDA (should have bipartisan support within the Committee).  With respect to WRDA, there may be a desire to include improved levee safety, improved project efficiency and addressing the WRDA project financing dilemma.
  • Reauthorization of the Transportation Act (should have bipartisan support within the Committee)
Other issues that will likely come before the Committee include: 
  1. Asian Carp 
  2. Some of the regional water body and wilderness bills from last year’s omnibus package 
  3. Drinking water and clean water SRFs 
  4. Sustainability and green management of Federal facilities (i.e., energy and water efficiencies)
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Like many other committees at this time, this one is not yet fully organized but will be within the next couple of weeks.  The year's priorities likely will include: 

  1. Energy: the number one priority for the year
  2. Budget implications on Committee topics: an overarching issue 
  3. Expect to see some of the 2010 omnibus waters and wilderness bills resurface before the Committee

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