Friday, October 30, 2015

Mississippi River Basin Water Resource Weekly News

~Most of the Water News - None of the Spin~
As early as next week, the Senate may begin debate and vote on S.J.Res.22 - a Congressional Review Act (or "CRA") resolution to block the Obama Administration's new Clean Water Rule (or "WOTUS" - Waters of the United States - rule). The Congressional Review Act of 1996 established expedited congressional procedures for disapproving a broad range of regulatory rules issued by federal agencies.  Using the CRA process allows measures to pass the Senate on only a simple majority vote; however, resolution passage is a steep legislative hill to climb, especially in the face of a likely Presidential veto (a two-thirds majority is still required under CRA procedures to override a veto).  Only one CRA challenge has ever successfully passed Congress to become law, and most CRA resolutions are used primarily for messaging purposes.

Officially called "A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of 'waters of the United States' under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act," S.J.Res.22 is backed by 48 Republican senators in addition to the resolution's sponsor, Iowa GOP Senator Joni Ernst. Sen. Ernst circulated a discharge petition and secured enough votes to allow the resolution to move quickly to the Senate floor without first going through committee.

On July 7, Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Nebraska) filed a House CRA challenge to vacate the Clean Water Rule: H. J. Res. 59.   That resolution has yet to be referred by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to the full House for consideration.

For details on how CRA challenges work, you can read this Congressional Research Service July 29 report on alternatives available to Congress to address the WOTUS rule.

In the meantime, debate is set to begin in the Senate next week on Senator John Barrasso's (R-WY) bill to block the WOTUS rule (see below, under "Next Week in Congress").

Let's Make a Deal
The White House and Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle struck a long-term budget deal earlier this week that would lift the debt ceiling, fund the federal government, and reverse some of the defense and non-defense discretionary spending cuts made as part of the 2011 sequestration deal. The unusually long-term budget plan sets funding levels for the government for two fiscal years, well beyond the next general election, demonstrates the enduring strength of congressional leaders over conservative would-be upstarts, and makes the somewhat unprecedented moves of altering copr insurance, Medicare and Social Security to offset increased spending. The House passed the measure (H.R. 1314) on Wednesday, and the Senate passed the bill early on Friday morning, sending it on to the President for his signature.

The bill includes a provision capping rates of return for government-backed crop insurance policies at 8.9 percent, as opposed to the current 14 percent rate.  However, the proposed change drew the immediate ire of farm state lawmakers and agricultural interest groups.  House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway struck a deal with Republican leaders shortly before Wednesday's House vote on the budget bill that Conaway says will result in the cuts being removed at some point down the road.  For now, the crop insurance cut provision remains in the bill, however, and it is unclear how the cuts would actually be restored.

The agreed-upon budget numbers in the plan represent totals for federal spending.  Congress will still need to debate and pass appropriation bills by December 11 to implement spending at those target levels (the twelve individual bills may be combined into one or more omnibus or "minibus" spending packages).  While this week's budget agreement was free of contentious amendments (or "riders") impacting policy, during the upcoming spending bill debates, the subject of policy riders attached to those bills is sure to arise.

The budget agreement was a parting gift from outgoing House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for his successor, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who was nominated for that role on Wednesday (the full House formally votes on Thursday), and can now focus on passing other key pieces of legislation, including the spending bills mentioned above and a long-term surface transportation reauthorization bill.  The House passed a 22-day short-term transportation extension on Tuesday. The Senate did the same on Wednesday.

Next Week in Congress
The "Federal Water Quality Protection Act" (S. 1140), a Senate bill that would overturn the Obama Administration's Clean Water Rule, will be considered on the floor of the Senate next week, according to the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) and the Senate schedule for Tuesday.  In a Thursday statement, Barrasso announced, "the Senate has the opportunity now to take up the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, a strong bipartisan bill that will direct the Environmental Protection Agency to write a reasonable rule to protect our navigable waterways." The Senate has set aside time to debate the legislation on Tuesday, and at about 2:30 PM the chamber will vote on whether to limit debate on the measure (called a cloture vote). The bill has 46 co-sponsors (43 Republican and three Democratic), and is unlikely to gain the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate.

In addition to the debate and possible vote on S. 1140, there are several Congressional committee meetings and hearings that relate to Mississippi River Basin water resources set for next week.  Here is a summary at what is already on tap for next week (the list will be updated as needed).
Noteworthy @UpperMiss Twitter Postings for the Week  

Water Quality -
  • Pennsylvania Coal Alliance CEO: Pennsylvania shouldn't rush into embracing Clean Water Rule (WOTUS)
  • Vote set in Senate next week for Sen. Barrasso's WOTUS rule-blocking bill; Barrasso press release:   (link to bill:
  • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee expands investigation into Obama administration's clean water rule
  • Pennsylvania announces $51.7 million investment for ten drinking water, wastewater and non-point source projects (several in Ohio River Basin)
  • National Mining Association-sponsored report: Interior Department's proposed stream protection rule could cost U.S. economy over 200,000 jobs
  • New stream-protection rule to protect waterways from surface coal mining meets with stiff Senate Republican resistance at Tuesday hearing
  • Scientists have found pharmaceuticals, other chemicals in Minnesota lakes; genetic testing helps determine risks
  • Draft revision of Missouri’s Nonpoint Source Management Plan is available for public review and comment and
  • State DNR takes steps to restore more Wisconsin waterways
  • After years of spills, N.D. still deciding how to handle pipeline leaks
Water Resource Management (Floodplains, Dams, Navigation, Wetlands, Flooding, Supplies, etc.) -
  • Troubling trend: the funneling of interstate water fights to the Supreme Court (example cases cited: Montana and Wyoming, Mississippi and Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas)
  • Army Corps Missouri River fall public meetings focus on draft Annual Operating Plan (comments due November 20)
  • Justice Dept. appeals $3 billion Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet restoration ruling against the Army Corps of Engineers
  • Tulsa County Commissioner proposes reconstructing Arkansas River levees in the Tulsa region
  • Bellevue City and Sarpy County to contribute money toward $25 million Missouri River levee repairs (Nebraska)
  • Biennial Governor’s Conference on the Management of the Illinois River System looks at pressing River issues
  • Increased demand threatens aquifer water supplies in northeastern Illinois (Fox River Basin)
  • New Natural Resources Defense Council report calls on Chicago region to assess the state of its inland waterway system
  • Grain barge shipments from Upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers drop 21% to 39% below the 5-year average
Agriculture -
  • North Iowa farmer among a dozen honored by the White House for efforts to use sustainable
    agriculture (more also see this White House page:
  • Administration announces new efforts to promote sustainable and climate-smart agricultural practices across the country
  • Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow calls for support of 2014 farm bill conservation and energy programs as appropriators steadily cut them
  • House Agriculture Committee examines Big Data and its role in agriculture
  • House Agriculture Chairman: Senate leadership commits to bipartisan fix to restore cuts to crop insurance in budget bill
Climate and Weather -
  • NOAA weekly drought update: some introduction or expansion of dryness and moderate drought in Plains, Missouri; drought relief in southern Mississippi River Valley, Oklahoma
  • NOAA Climate Prediction Center monthly drought outlook (will be released on Saturday afternoon, October 31)
  • Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) seeks emails of NOAA scientists who published study undercutting popular climate denier talking point (related story below)
  • NOAA refuses to release scientists' climate email communications to Congressional Republican whose critics say is conducting a "fishing expedition"
Biodiversity, Wildlife and Invasives -
  • Minnesota DNR loses fight against zebra mussels in Christmas Lake (Twin Cities area)
  • Invasive zebra mussels discovered in Madison's Lake Mendota
  • Thousands of threatened bats living under a Mississippi River bridge that's due to be torn down will be relocated
  • USDA releases Grant and Partnership Programs that Can Address Invasive Species (FY 2016)
  • Environmental groups demand answers on agencies' cooling water rule reversal regarding endangered species
  • Center for Biological Diversity intends to sue U.S. EPA over approval of fungicide benzovindiflupyr (approved for use on some crops) and its toxicity to aquatic life
  • Fish and Wildlife Service will finalize rule opening all of Wyoming up to low-risk reintroductions of black-footed ferrets; FWS statement and news story (Federal Register notice
  • Scientists track Minnesota's loons' migration to Gulf of Mexico; revealing effects of 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill
In the Cities -
  • National Geographic to visit Mississippi River cities to find places of interest (also see: National Geographic representatives discuss plans in St. Cloud to build the tourism brand along Mississippi River
  • Stillwater named Minnesota’s ‘most picturesque’ small town in USA Today list
  • Mayors to 2016 Presidential candidates: We need “grown-up conversations” about infrastructure, water and climate (Minneapolis and Nashville mayors quoted)
  • New Orleans transit agency receives $10+ million grant to develop a new Canal Street ferry terminal and
  • Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville (Ohio River) awarded $10 million TIGER grant for Rail-to-Water and Truck-to-Rail Improvement Project
In the States-
Gulf Coastal Region-
  • NOAA announces FY 2016 National Competitive Hypoxia funding programs: Northern Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment Program and Coastal Hypoxia Research Program
  • Louisiana and four other Gulf Coast states settle with Transocean for role in BP Deepwater Horizon disaster
  • Lafourche Parish oil spill money to go to five coastal restoration projects
Forestry -
  • American chestnuts rise on Pennsylvania coal strip mine sites where other trees failed to make a stand
Resource Development -
  • Locals appear unconcerned about strip mining for coal returning to Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in Ohio
  • Boone County (Iowa) board of supervisors votes unanimously to oppose Bakken Pipeline project
  • Pennsylvania regulators are one major step closer to implementing new rules for oil and natural gas drilling in the state
  • President of West Virginia’s largest electric utility: Coal consumption not likely to increase
  • N.D. oil slump affects Minnesota sand mining, rail shipping
  • Southern Kansas sees sudden spike in earthquakes
  • Oil and gas industry restrictions to decrease frequency and intensity of earthquakes in south-central Kansas will remain in place until at least March 2016
Federal Budget (You can follow the status of all of the fiscal year 2016 appropriation bills on this web page) -
  • House passes sweeping budget bill; Senate vote up next (Link to bill:
  • Senate passes two-year budget deal that raises the debt ceiling, sending the agreement to President Obama
  • President and Congressional Democrats will stand firm against efforts to target environmental regulations in spending bills
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)
  • EPA State Level Nutrient Reduction Strategies webcast: Understanding Farmers’ Awareness, Attitudes and Practices related to Nutrient Management in Indiana, November 4, 10 AM CT
  • Missouri DNR Water Protection Forum meeting; November 12, 9 AM-noon CT, Jefferson City
  • USEPA Safe and Sustainable Water Resources BOSC Subcommittee teleconference (open to public); November 13, noon-2 PM ET
  • Army Corps of Engineers, Inland Waterways Users Board meeting; 9 AM-1 PM, December 2; St. Charles, Missouri
e-Newsletters, Publications, Journals, Multimedia  -
  • National Great Rivers Research and Education Center Fall 2015 Education Newsletter
  • Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy October 27 TUWaterWays e-newsletter
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Watershed Connections - October
  • Association of State Floodplain Managers October "News and Views" e-newsletter
  • Gulf Restoration Network's October 29 Gulf Waves e-newsletter
Other news-
  • Senate standoff between vote on TSCA-reform bill and Land and Water Conservation Act reauthorization called "absurd"
  • Dog named Trigger accidentally shoots owner during hunt in Indiana's Tri-County Fish and Wildlife Area (Trigger unharmed)
  • Citing an "out of control" regulatory system, senators create new, bipartisan  Senate Regulations Caucus
  • TNC North America Agriculture Nutrient Strategy Director job posting
  • Brookings Profiles in Negotiation series: how battles over the U.S. agriculture budget were waged for years in Congress
  • Pew Charitable Trust: States coordinate, challenge feds on public land use
Politics and People-
  • Ken Kopocis, the top official in U.S. EPA's water office, will step down in November; Joel Beauvais will serve as acting deputy assistant administrator
  • House members elect Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) as the 54th Speaker of the House
  • Democrat John Bel Edwards will face off against Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in a Nov. 21 runoff for Louisiana Governor
  • Moderate GOP senators form green coalition, including Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mark Kirk (Ill.)
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce President criticizes ideologues in both parties for pushing leaders to political extremes
  • Op-ed: House Science Committee pursues open-ended, Orwellian attempts to intimidate scientists
Your (Halloween) Moment of Zen -
"Quoth the Raven 'Nevermore.'"

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