Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Proposed FY 2016 Omnibus Appropriations Legislation and Mississippi River Basin Water Resources

In the early morning hours of Wednesday (December 16) the House Rules Committee released a proposed omnibus appropriations bill that would set levels of federal government discretionary spending for the remainder of the 2016 fiscal year.  The bill is due to be considered and passed by House this Friday, before moving on to the Senate for debate and likely passage. Later on Wednesday, Congress passed another short-term spending extension known as a Continuing Resolution, giving lawmakers through December 22 to pass the long-term measure.

Most of the contentious environmental policy provisions (known as riders) that were being considered by negotiators did not make their way into the final draft, including measures that would have blocked funding for implementing the Clean Water (or Waters of the U.S.) Rule, and a proposed Interior Department "Stream Protection Rule."  In addition to the legislative language, itself, included in the Rules Committee release were separate "Explanatory Statements" providing further breakdown of the funding levels, and direction to departments and agencies funded by the bill. The following Explanatory Statements relate most directly to water resource issues:
Below is a summary of several items in the omnibus legislation that may be of particular interest to Mississippi River Basin stakeholders.
For the Department of Interior
  • Reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund through September 30, 2018, providing the program with $450 Million in discretionary funds for fiscal year 2016 (a one-time increase of $143.86 Million above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level)
  • $35.145 Million for the North American Wetland Conservation Fund
  • $13.228 Million for payments to counties authorized by the National Wildlife Refuge Fund
  • $213.1 Million for USGS Water Resources surveys, investigations and research under the agency's newly-requested budget structure, including $92.79 Million for National Water Quality Programs
  • Directs the National Park Service "to undertake a study for the development of a permanent headquarters and visitor use facility at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in close proximity to the existing temporary headquarters and the river."
For the Environmental Protection Agency:
  • $8.14 Billion for the EPA overall (equal to fiscal year 2015 funding level), including $2.61 Billion for Environmental Programs and Management
  • $1.394 Million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) ($.055 Million below the fiscal year 2015 funding level) and $.86 Million for the Drinking Water SRF ($.044 Million below the fiscal year 2015 funding level)
  • $164.92 Million for Clean Water Act Nonpoint source (Section 319) grant program ($5.66 Million over the fiscal year 2015 funding level)
For the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • $100 Million for the Pre-disaster Mitigation Fund ($75 million above the fiscal year 2015 funding level)
  • $850.856 Million for NRCS operations ($4.4 Million above the fiscal year 2015 funding level)
  • $12 Million for the NRCS Watershed Rehabilitation Program (equal to the fiscal year 2015 funding level - the administration had requested nothing for this program)
  • Carries over the same limitations from fiscal year 2015 to the mandatory farm bill Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), cutting funding by $321 million below the farm bill authorized level
  • Removes fiscal year 2015 limitations that had been placed on the mandatory farm bill Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
For the Army Corps of Engineers:
  • $5.99 billion overall to the Army Corps of Engineers ($535 Million over the fiscal year 2015 level)
  • $19.787 Million for the Upper Mississippi River Basin Restoration (equal to the administration's request)
  • $500,000 for the Interbasin Control of Great Lakes-Mississippi River Aquatic Nuisance Species Feasibility Study
  • $400,000 for an Illinois River Basin Restoration Feasibility Study
  • $700,000 for a Des Moines Levee System Feasibility Study (Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers)
  • $50,000 for a Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study
  • $600,000 for a Minnesota River Watershed Feasibility Study
  • $345 Million for Mississippi River and Tributaries construction, and operation and maintenance
  • $700,000 for a St. Louis Riverfront Feasibility Study (both sides of the Mississippi River)
  • Directs the Army Corps to “provide to the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress, not later than 30 days after the enactment of this Act, a report detailing the scope, schedule, and Budget” for completing any update or reanalysis to be undertaken regarding the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway System Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP).
  • Continues a limitation included in past appropriation bills that no funds provided to the Corps of Engineers be used “to develop or implement rules or guidance to support implementation of the final Principles and Requirements for Federal Investments in Water Resources released in March 2013 or the final Interagency Guidelines released in December 2014.”
  • Directs the Corps' Comptroller General to conduct a study on "the cumulative economic impact of all shallow draft ports on the Mississippi River between St. Louis, Missouri, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana."

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