September 1, 1999

Federal Legislative Update

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Rich Gold

On August 6, Congress began its month-long summer recess. Members are scheduled to return to Washington during the second week of September in order to begin work on an ambitious schedule. Congressional leadership has optimistically targeted the end of October for the end of the first session of the 106th Congress. Prior to recessing, Congress took some noteworthy action on several important environmental issues such as Superfund and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). In addition, one or both chambers acted on annual appropriations legislation, which funds federal environmental protection and conservation programs.

Superfund Reform

On August 5, by a vote of 69-2, the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee approved the "Recycle America's Land Act of 1999." This bill would authorize funding for eight years, exempt small businesses from liability and accelerate cleanup for brownfields sites. Many involved see this legislation as the most viable vehicle for any significant reform of the Superfund program that has emerged in recent years. However, this legislation still has a treacherous path on its way to the House floor. In addition to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the bill must be approved by the Committee, and the tax provisions would need to be reviewed by the Ways and Means Committee. Furthermore, environmental groups and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have come out against the bill.

On the Senate side, the prospect for Superfund reform appears bleak. On August 4, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee admitted defeat when, after several attempts at a markup, it withdrew a scaled-back reform bill. It is unclear how or if the Senate will next proceed on this issue during 1999.

Water Resources Development Act

On the last day prior to the August recess, the House passed the WRDA conference agreement authorizing $6.4 billion for numerous flood control, navigation and water resource projects. President Clinton signed the measure on August 18 despite "serious reservations" with regard to the bill's construction authorization, which the President believes "far exceeds a reasonable assessment of the available future federal budgetary resources for the Corps of Engineers program."

The compromise reached this year involved steps to protect Sacramento from a flood of a magnitude likely to occur once every 135 years, instead of its current protection against a once-in-95-years flood. The matter is likely to be debated again during the next session.

VA-HUD Appropriations Bill

The VA-HUD bill is the primary funding vehicle for the EPA. In addition, this bill is also the source for numerous water-related infrastructure appropriations projects. The House approved its version of the fiscal year 2000 VA-HUD bill on August 5. The Senate VA-HUD subcommittee has yet to schedule a markup on its legislation.

The House bill would fund EPA at $7.3 billion and Superfund at $1.45 billion. The Climate Change Technology Initiative is funded at $115 million. Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds will be $775 million, and Clean Water State Revolving Funds are set at $1.175 billion. The Clean Air Partnership Fund is funded at $36.5 million, while State Air Grants are funded at $115 million. Bill language prohibits the use of funds for rulemaking regarding, or orders implementing, the Kyoto Protocol.

Interior Appropriations Bill

The Interior Appropriations bill funds the majority of federal lands and conservation programs, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the National Wildlife Refuges. The House passed its bill on July 15. The House bill funds the Department of Interior and related agencies at levels $1.1 billion below the President's request and several million below last year's levels. The full Senate has yet to pass its version.

Energy and Water Appropriations Bill

The Energy and Water Appropriations bill funds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and certain activities of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Energy, and several independent agencies. The House passed its version on July 27. The House bill is $880 million below fiscal year 1999 and $1.4 billion below the President's request.

It would fund the Corps at $4.19 billion and recommends funding the Bureau of Reclamation at $784.7 million. It includes funding recommendations for the Department of Energy of $15.5 billion.

The bill prohibits the use of funds for rulemaking regarding, or orders implementing, the Kyoto Protocol.

The Senate passed its version on July 28. It includes $3.8 billion for the Corps, $17 billion for the Department of Energy, and approximately $800 million for the Bureau of Reclamation.

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