Monday, March 25, 2013

UPDATED: White House Releases Updated Principles and Guidelines for Federal Water Projects; Implementation Schedule Uncertain

On Friday (March 22), the Obama Administration's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released an updated version of the Principles and Guidelines (or "P&G") designed to "govern how Federal agencies evaluate proposed water resource development projects." The P&G, which have long been anticipated by the nation's water resource stakeholders, include a final set of Principles and Requirements that according to the CEQ lay out "broad principles to guide water investments, as well as draft Interagency Guidelines for implementing the Principles & Requirements." The Guidelines outline the "detailed methodology for conducting implementation studies under the new Principles and Requirements," according to the CEQ announcement. Links to both the Principles and Requirements and the draft Interagency Guidelines can be found under the "Resources" section of this CEQ web page.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft Interagency Guidelines beginning on Wednesday, March 27 during a 60-day comment period. The CEQ indicates that the draft Guidelines will "incorporate feedback from the public and stakeholders before being finalized."  The Principles and Requirements are set to take effect 180 days after the publication of the final Interagency Guidelines.  The schedule for implementing the revised Principles and Standards in not at all certain, however.  This uncertainty is due in some part to a rider added at the last minute to the 2012 Fiscal Year federal appropriations bill that was effectively extended by the recently passed (Fiscal Year 2013) continuing resolution.  The rider would block the Army Corps of Engineers from implementing updates to the Principles and Guidelines.  The rider states in its entirety:
"Water Resources Principles and Guidelines. - No funds are provided for the line item proposed for Water Resources Principles and Guidelines, as this is considered a new start. No funds provided to the Corps shall be used to develop or implement rules or guidance if an update or replacement to the document dated March 10, 1983, and entitled "Economic and Environmental Principles and Guidelines for Water and Related Land Resources Implementation Studies" is finalized during the fiscal year period covered by the Energy and Water Development Act for 2012. The Corps shall continue to use the Water Resources Principles and Guidelines in effect as of the date of enactment of this Act during that same period."

In the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA) Congress directed the Secretary of the Army to revise the P&G that had guided water resources project planning for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority since the early 1980s. The Obama Administration sought to update and expand the scope of the P&G (i.e., to cover all federal agencies that undertake water resource projects, not just the four agencies currently subject to the P&G).  As part of that effort, the CEQ released its "Proposed National Objectives, Principles and Standards for Water and Related Resources Implementation Studies" in December, 2009 (those Principles and Standards have more recently become known as the "Principles and Requirements").  The "Principles" portion of the Principles and Requirements are described in the P&G as the "overarching concepts the Federal government seeks to promote through Federal investments in water resources now and into the foreseeable future," and include:
  • Healthy and Resilient Ecosystems
  • Sustainable Economic Development
  • Floodplains
  • Public Safety
  • Environmental Justice
  • Watershed Approach
The CEQ received a considerable amount of comment on the standards it proposed in 2009, including a rather critical analysis submitted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS report from the National Research Council (NRC), along with supporting materials, can be found here.  The update released on Friday has been widely anticipated since the 2009 release and 2010 comment period, and is expected by most to have incorporated at least some of those public comments and NAS concerns.  In the version released on March 22, the Principles and Requirements now apply to the following agencies:
  • Department of the Interior
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Army Corps of Engineers
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
In announcing the release of the updated P&G, CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley stated in a media release that "This much needed update of the 30-year-old Principles and Guidelines will help agencies better evaluate and expedite water projects that grow our economy and are essential for protecting our communities from floods, droughts, and storms."

The CEQ states that "the updated Principles and Requirements include a number of important changes that modernize the current approach to water resources development. They allow communities more flexibility to pursue local priorities; take a more comprehensive approach to water projects that maximizes economic, environmental, and recreational benefits; promote more transparent and informed decision-making across the Federal Government; and ensure responsible taxpayer investment through smart front-end planning so that projects proceed more quickly, stay on budget, and perform better."

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