Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Update

Congress has managed to hold to a two-year reauthorization schedule for the last three Water Resource Development Acts (2014, 2016, and 2018) and it looks like they are on track to increase that streak to four this year. This past Wednesday, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee voted unanimously to move H.R. 7575 The Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA 2020) out of committee. The bill is now headed to the House floor.

WRDA bills provide authority for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to conduct projects and studies. They have historically included (or been packaged with bills including) other water-related provisions such as drinking water programs and water infrastructure funding mechanisms.

This year’s House WRDA bill would provide around $8.6 billion in funding for 34 USACE projects. This is notably more than five times as many projects as were approved by WRDA 2018. The bill would authorize 35 new USACE studies and calls for 41 ongoing studies to be expedited. In addition to project authorizations, the bill includes three other significant provisions shared more in detail below:

Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund “Unlocked”

The House bill would “unlock” $10 billion in funds held in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF), allowing that money to be spent on dredging and port projects. This has been a longtime aim of Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR). HMTF funds were partially unlocked earlier this year in the CARES Act, but annual expenditures from the fund were capped at the amount of the previous year’s HMTF revenue. WRDA 2020 would expand on this by allowing access to additional funds from the existing HMTF balance.

Inland Waterways Trust Fund Cost Share Reduced

WRDA 2020 would reduce the share drawn from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to 35% from the current 50% for lock and dam projects on rivers. This would increase the Treasury’s general fund cost share for these projects from 50% to 65%. Theoretically this reduction of trust fund spending will allow trust fund dollars to fund more projects. This change notably is not permanent and would apply only to projects beginning before the end of 2027.

An Increasing Focus on Resilience and Environmental Justice

This year’s WRDA is crafted with an increasing focus on disaster resilience and consideration of communities impacted by flooding and other water-related dangers. Of the 34 projects approved for USACE work, seven are for flood management and two others are for flood reduction with ecosystem restoration components. The bill also reaffirms a commitment to using natural and nature-based solutions and authorizing projects and studies for communities facing repetitive flooding events. The bill also includes PFAS provisions, increases minority community and tribal input on projects, and aims to address affordability issues for disadvantaged communities.

What’s Happening in the Senate?

The Senate’s 2020 WRDA proposal has been voted through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee but has not yet received a floor vote. The Senate’s proposal comprises two bills: one for USACE entitled America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2020, and another for drinking-water authorizations and provisions called the Drinking Water Act of 2020. The Senate proposal, like the House bill, was developed using a bipartisan approach and has broad support on both sides of the aisle.

What’s Next for WRDA?

With bipartisan proposals already out of committee in the House and Senate and plenty of pressure to stick to the two-year authorization cycle, the outlook looks bright for WRDA 2020. As broader infrastructure packages like the Moving Forward Act remain mired in partisan debate, WRDA presents an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground on infrastructure investment. Expect to hear more on WRDA once Congress returns from their August recess.

For further reading, check out the House bill text, fact sheet, and section-by-section summary; the Senate AWIA text, fact sheet, and section-by-section summary; and the Senate Drinking Water Act text and section-by-section summary.

Regions Help Move Earth Day Online

Happy Earth Day! And happy 50th birthday to Earth Day! Today marks fifty years since the first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd 1970.

While Earth Day in 1970 “brought 20 million Americans out into the spring sunshine for peaceful demonstrations in favor of environmental reform,” this year’s Earth Day is being observed in a very different way.

Due to precautions against the coronavirus, Earth Day 2020 is not being celebrated as it usually is with large demonstrations, parades and in-person events. In accordance with social distancing guidelines, Earth Day has moved online with virtual events and posts taking the place of traditional celebrations.

The Earth Day Network, the official organizers of Earth Day is holding a 24 Hours of Action, providing an hourly call to action. They are also streaming performances and speeches throughout the day.

Regional councils have also joined in to celebrate the day online by spreading information on their environmental programs, and encouraging community members to engage in earth-friendly activities and head outside to enjoy nature (in safe and socially responsible ways!)

Check out the posts below to see how regional councils are celebrating:

Houston Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) – Earth Day Facts and Information About yourcommutesolution.org

H-GAC Earth Day Fact Tweet #3

H-GAC is tweeting throughout the day to share Earth Day facts. Did you know that Houston’s first light rail line was partly responsible for a 24 percent reduction in carbon monoxide, improving air quality in the two years following its opening? -We didn’t! To see more facts, check out their social media accounts. H-GAC is also taking the opportunity to share information about yourcommutesolution.org which provides options for residents of the region to improve their commutes and help to enhance the region’s air quality.

Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) – Blog: 50 Years of Celebrating Earth Day: Look How Far We’ve Come

A photo from SEMCOG’s blog shows kayakers on the Rouge River, one of the success stories of the region’s environmental efforts.

SEMCOG’s blog features an Earth Day post written by Katie Grantham, a planner with their Environment and Infrastructure group. The post celebrates some of the environmental progress that has been made in the region since the first Earth Day. (Last year marked the 50th Anniversary of when the Rouge River caught fire!) And highlights SEMCOG environmental programs like their Ozone Action program, and offers ideas for ways that community members can get engage with local Earth Day events like virtual cleanups.

Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) -Earth Day Recycling Survey

AACOG is reaching out today to community members today to encourage them to participate in an Earth Day recycling survey. Input from the survey will be used to better understand the region’s recycling and solid waste services needs to assist with short and long term planning. AACOG is the state-designated planning agency for solid waste management issues in the region and provides a range of planning and programmatic support that helps to ensure that solid waste is managed in responsible and earth-friendly ways.

Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) Virtual Earth Day Celebration With Calumet Collaborative

NIRPC partnered with the Calumet Collaborative, a regional community partnership group, to develop a virtual Earth Day celebration. The day-long event featured an array of live speakers and documentary watch-parties followed by discussion. The event highlighted local environmental programs and resources including regional water clean-up efforts, outdoor recreation opportunities at nearby parks, and community projects like the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Virtual Earth Day clean up.

Celebrating Earth Day at your regional council? Send your stories to eli.spang@narc.org or use the hashtag #RegionsLead on social media!

Highlights From the EPA America Recycles Summit and Innovation Fair 2019

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held its second annual America Recycles Summit and inaugural Innovation Fair to highlight national efforts being taken to address major challenges facing the U.S. recycling system. The two-day event brought together industry heads, nonprofit organizations, local and regional leadership, and the federal government to network; show off their latest recycling projects, programs, and technology; and collectively commit to work towards the implementation of the EPA’s 2019 National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System.

This framework, officially released on America Recycles Day (November 15), details the work of four working groups created to address critical areas for action: promoting education and outreach, enhancing materials management infrastructure, strengthening secondary materials markets, and enhancing measurement. The framework document summarizes the activities and accomplishments of the workgroups in 2019 and lays out a path forward for the new year. Recommended 2020 workgroup actions under consideration include:

  • Develop and make available a set of common recycling messages and national public relations campaign to lay the foundation for this common messaging.
  • Conduct and compile research on successful infrastructure investments and continue to support programs like the “Materials Recovery for the Future” pilot project.
  • Explore economic models to create robust and sustainable domestic secondary markets and articulate a better business case for using recycled materials.
  • Develop a central compilation of data and metrics used to measure recycling or components of the recycling system.

These critical considerations were echoed in the America Recycles Summit, where speakers discussed how we can chart a path forwards towards a more resilient U.S. recycling system. Below are themes and takeaways from the event:

Education: A large portion of the event was devoted to the importance of using education as a strategy to address the nation’s recycling challenges. Helen Lowman, CEO and President of Keep America Beautiful, stressed the importance that consistent, ongoing messaging has on the public. Recycling dialogue needs to provide a positive image about the current state of recycling and explain why it is important to continue recycling.

Partnerships: The broad range of participants in the room demonstrated that no one entity is to blame for U.S. recycling shortfalls, nor can anyone solve this problem alone. No one solution exists to fix the American recycling system. It will require a collaborative effort, relying on partnerships built between the private sector, non-profit organizations, governing bodies at all levels, and the general public to carry the momentum forward.

Innovation: There was a general consensus that Americans want to recycle, yet so many communities do not have access to recycling centers or have systems in place to handle the management of recycled materials. This is especially the case for rural, remote, and hard-to-reach communities. Innovation needs to happen to improve the recycling infrastructure in all communities, whether that community is a coastal city or a rural, heartland town.

How can your organization can get involved with EPA’s recycling efforts? An action you can take today is to sign the America Recycles Pledge, an initiative resulting from the EPA’s first recycling summit. All U.S. based organizations can join NARC in signing the pledge, signifying that you are willing to commit to work towards a more resilient materials economy and build on existing efforts addressing the challenges facing the nation’s current recycling system.

How Regions are Supporting Recycling in an Increasingly Challenging Market

As the cost of recycling is escalating for many local governments, regional councils are working toward solutions. Regional Councils and Metropolitan Planning Agencies (MPOs) are looking at solutions that reduce waste, improve recycling efficiency, and/or educate public and private entities on better recycling practices. Some of these programs, like the Upper Arkansas Recycling Program, highlight the cost savings that collaboration provides. Others, like the Iowa Waste Exchange offer a service that connects businesses with would-be discarded materials.

Recycling pledges are another effort to increase engagement and raise awareness about the nation’s recycling challenges. The National Association of Regional Councils recently signed on to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) America Recycles Pledge in order to work toward a more resilient materials economy. Signatories promote education and outreach, pledge to enhance materials management infrastructure, strengthen secondary materials markets, and attempt to enhance the measurement of recycled materials.

Regional Recycling Programs

Region XII Council of Governments: Iowa Waste Exchange

Region XII Council of Governments runs a no-cost materials exchange program called the Iowa Waste Exchange (IWE) where the Region XII COG maintains a database of available and wanted materials and is funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The idea behind the IWE is for companies and other groups to use the confidential resources provided by Region XII to find a market for materials they would otherwise discard or warehouse. The program also offers free consultations to locate needed materials or potential buyers. The Iowa Waste Exchange offers services including online materials listings, waste management technical assistance, materials innovation service, economic development and general business assistance, and area resource specialists.

Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG): Upper Arkansas Recycling Program

The Upper Arkansas Area Council of Governments (UAACOG) operates a collaborative low-cost recycling agreement. The Upper Arkansas Recycling Program (UAR) is a collaborative effort between the UAACOG and other regional entities. In an effort to bring additional resources to the region all partners of the UAR have signed an intergovernmental agreement. The program, which has been in operation since 1998, is funded by an annual $1.30 per capita charge and consists of drop-off recycling sites in all of the partner areas accepting newspaper, aluminum, tin, and glass. UAACOG maintains collection totals, provides community support, coordinates special collection events, and runs a specialty Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for glass.

Mid-America Regional Council (MARC): Solid Waste Management District

The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) is a Solid Waste Management District which administers a solid waste grant program for waste reduction, reuse, and recycling projects. Cities and counties, non-profit organizations, businesses, and schools throughout the region can apply for the grant. MARC also supports the collection and disposal of household hazardous waste through contracts with two permanent collection facilities and several mobile collection events. In addition to this, MARC has created public education initiatives to reduce the amount of waste the region sends to area landfills. MARC also manages the RecycleSpot.org website and a recycling hotline (816/474-TEAM), that provides residents information on recycling opportunities in the region.

Texas Council of Governments 

Texas handles solid waste and recycling a little differently than other states. This is due to the fact that Texas designates all of its COGS as planning agencies for solid waste and all Texas COGs receive state funding to distribute local and regional implementation grants for programs related to recycling and waste management.

As solid waste planning agencies, Texas COGs must also develop regional solid waste management plans outlining activities and priorities that will be initiated in the region throughout the planning period including items such as population and growth patterns, economic activity, waste generation and characteristics, waste management systems, summary of needs and problems, goals, and an action plan for the region. Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), in the metro Austin area, lists 15 intended goals under their regional solid waste plan, ranging from reduction strategies to administrative goals.

All Texas COGs receive state funding from landfill fees that allow them to support projects that further the regional solid waste management plan. In an effort to extend the life of landfills, the North Central Council of Governments (NCTCOG) is using such funding for programs such as Time to Recycle and Report DFW Dumping. Across the state, there is a serious effort to reduce landfill disposals and waste. This is especially true after the 2017 release of a report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which reported that annual landfill disposal reached approximately 33.3 million tons of waste across the state, equivalent to 6.84 pounds of waste per Texan per day.

Whether it’s a collaborative reuse material buying market, special collection events, public recycling education outreach, solid waste management plans, or efforts to extend the lifecycle of current landfills, regions are finding innovative and collaborative solutions to the nation’s recycling challenges.

Three Takeaways From Last Week’s Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Webinar

Tracking Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and mitigation efforts is no easy task. Accurate data collection may require decades worth of data points and many seemingly noncontributing factors may skew results.

The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is working with local and regional organizations all over the globe to achieve sustainable urban development. ICLEI works with regional organizations by incorporating sustainability into regional planning and policy. ICLEI has also developed several tools and projects to assist policy makers. Through the GHG Contribution Analysis Toolkit, regions and local officials can compare and contrast the relative effect different factors have on overall GHG emissions in the region.

Last week the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) hosted a webinar featuring a presentation from ICLEI on some of the tools and programs they offer to regional leaders to track progress in GHG mitigation. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) joined the webinar to discuss how their regions are tracking GHG mitigation efforts and how the GHG Contribution Analysis Toolkit has helped them in their work.

Three takeaways from the webinar:

  • Inventories are Important for Tracking GHG Emissions Reduction

You can’t effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions if you’re not measuring them. Measuring emissions helps regional leaders identify what the largest emission sources are in the region. Tracking GHG emissions over time can lead to effective reduction actions and cost saving across multiple sectors.

  • Multiple Inventories Provide Significantly More Information Than Single Inventories

Single GHG inventories can provide a breakdown of emissions levels by sector -at a single point in time, but they do not capture changes in emissions levels by sector over time. This can be achieved through multiple inventories, which show change over time (often five-year periods), giving local officials a better picture of overall mitigation efforts.

  • Contribution Analysis Tools Can Help Fill the Gaps Left by More Limited Inventories

Basic inventories can provide good information regarding emission levels by sector, but they typically lack information about the specific driving factors of change. Factors like population growth, a cleaner electricity grid, and changing mean temperatures all affect emission level changes, but traditional inventories typically don’t capture all of this information. Contribution analysis tools provide analysis at this level, which results in more actionable information that can be passed on to lawmakers, community leaders, and residents

You can find a recording of the webinar here.

A copy of the webinar’s PowerPoint presentation can be found here.


Is Your Region Harnessing Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds?

August is National Water Quality Month, a perfect time to take a look at some of the ways that regions can use the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) to support local water infrastructure improvements.

What are the State Revolving Fund (SRF) Programs?

The CWSRF and DWSRF are programs which function through a federal-state partnership that uses federal funds matched with state funds to capitalize water infrastructure banks in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Money from these state banks is distributed for loans, refinancing, purchasing, guaranteeing local debt, and purchasing bond insurance. Recipients who receive money at low interest rates return payments to the fund, allowing it to “revolve.”

SRF Funding Provides a Good Value for Communities 

SRF loans are typically provided at lower interest rates and with more flexibility than other financing options can provide.

According to the EPA’s DWSRF fact sheet:

  • In 2018, the average DWSRF loan had an interest rate of 1.8%.
  • Loan terms can be extended up to 30 years.
  • Repayment begins up to 18 months after project completion.

CWSRF funds can be used for:

  • Municipal wastewater facility construction,
  • Control of nonpoint sources of pollution,
  • Construction of decentralized wastewater treatment systems,
  • Green infrastructure projects,
  • Estuary protection, and
  • Other water quality projects.

DWSRF Funds can be used for:

  • Drinking Water Treatment,
  • Pipe Installation/Replacement,
  • Source Water Protection,
  • Well Construction/Rehabilitation,
  • Storage, and
  • Other water quality projects.

How Can Regions Councils Get More Involved With SRFs?

Regional councils, as “intermunicipal agencies,” are eligible to directly borrow from SRFs. Regional councils can also coordinate borrowing for their members and for groups of members and other entities with projects that extend beyond state borders.

Regional Councils as “Intermunicipal Agency” Borrowers

As “intermunicipal agencies,” regional councils can receive SRF funding for individual members or for the council itself.

The EPA’s “Financing Options for Nontraditional Eligibilities in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund Programs” highlights several loans provided directly to regional councils:

  • $1.0 million to the Missouri Association Councils of Government (MACOG) for capitalization of the Missouri On-Site Wastewater Improvement Grant-Loan Program. MACOG directed this funding in a pass-through arrangement to homeowners for the repair or replacement of on-site wastewater treatment systems. 
  • $3.5 million to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) divided among four assistance agreements for projects which included trash capture devices for catchment basins.
  • $2 million to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) for green infrastructure projects focused on addressing non-point source pollutant loads.

Regional Councils as Coordinators for Smaller SRF Borrowers

Project management and reporting requirements can be a challenge for smaller entities that are interested in borrowing SRF funds. Regional Councils can help these smaller borrowers by supporting some of this work. 

Idaho is an example of a state that encourages this type of coordination. According to the Idaho State Department of Environmental Quality, “to help many of the smaller DWSRF borrowers comply with this requirement, Idaho has encouraged them to coordinate with Councils of Government. This arrangement seems to be paying dividends in terms of oversight and compliance.”

Interstate projects present another opportunity for regional councils to operate as SRF coordinators. In these cases, regional councils can apply for loans on behalf of multiple municipalities in different states who are working together on a project whose geographic scope extends past state lines.

SRF Program Details Vary by State

Each state administers their revolving fund individually and project and borrower eligibility varies significantly. For details regarding your state’s SRFs, contact your state SRF contacts. 

Water Has No Bounds: Regional Councils Take the Lead on Flood Planning

According to the National Resources Defense Council, flooding throughout the country will continue to be intensified by sea level rise and extreme weather. In fact, the nation’s floodplains are expected to grow an average of 45% by the year 2100. 500-year and 100-year floods are now occurring more often than expected, leaving communities everywhere at risk for major economic and public safety concerns. As local officials grapple with these new trends, many are looking regionally to tackle this widespread problem.

Whether flooding takes place on the gulf coast, the urban streets of Pittsburgh, or a small town along the Missouri River, communities across the U.S. must develop ways to handle the aftermath of flooding. Flooding does not start and stop at jurisdictional boundaries. This is evident from previous years’ hurricanes, flash floods up and down the east coast, and the recent flooding devastation that urban and rural communities in the Midwest are still recovering from. The Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) is helping local officials in Nebraska and Iowa coordinate resources in the aftermath of the Missouri River flooding. The region is focused on recovering and reestablishing what has been damaged and lost in the region’s worst flooding event in history. MAPA is hopeful to one day establish a committee dedicated to providing information to local officials, reduce redundancies across governing bodies, and coordinate planning efforts in both states. The increased frequency of these climate-related flooding events is causing many regional leaders to seek new and inventive solutions to mitigate this problem.

Many of NARC’s members are acting as regional partners to combat major flooding through a complex consortium of stormwater user fees and taxes, green infrastructure, zoning regulations, long-term stormwater designs, and flood risk mapping tools.

Risk Mapping Tools

Hazard and risk mapping are extremely valuable in times of crisis and disaster management. The Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) provides its region with a zip zone map so residents know what evacuation zone they’re in. This includes state-supported evacuation routes with identified resources such as fuel and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. These mapping and zoning resources, coupled with the HGAC regional plan, improve the quality of life for Texans. In HGAC’s Our Great Region 2040 plan, they highlighted the necessity for structural solutions – including dikes, flood gates, and drainage improvements – to protect key assets, but their cost means this approach must be carefully targeted. HGAC’s Regional Flood Management Committee also addresses these issues to effectively manage the floodplain and provide coordination among all parties involved to ensure the entire watershed is protected. Tools like these help ensure cooperation and coordination takes place within a region in the event of a major flood.

Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and other elements and practices to restore some of the natural processes required to manage water and create healthier urban environments. Both urban and rural communities are using green infrastructure to reduce and treat stormwater at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits to their areas. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) is developing a regional green strategy by providing the region with a Great Lakes Green Streets Guidebook,which provides a sampling of projects throughout the region utilizing green infrastructure techniques. Another tool SEMCOG uses in their regional strategy is the Wisconsin Green Infrastructure Guide – an audit of local codes and ordinances that often create a barrier to green infrastructure projects. SEMCOG is also working on an asset management project that will coordinate projects across jurisdictional boundaries and planning sectors in a cohesive and cost-saving manner.

Stormwater Taxes and Fees

Stormwater fees are another tool regions are using to better prepare for flooding. In Pennsylvania, for example, several municipalities are in the process of implementing local stormwater ordinances. Stormwater fees and authorities are especially important for municipalities that operate municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), because they allow local and regional areas to charge system users and generate funds to help pay for upgrades and future improvement projects. The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC) produces a  Forces of Change Exploratory Scenario Reportsdocument listing stormwater fees as a primary proactive strategy to protect communities from flooding and harmful pollution. This is produced by the Water Resource Center (WRC), first formulated in 2013 to address water-related concerns in the region. In addition to stormwater fees, 518 of the 548 municipalities in the SPC region are a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and three municipalities (Upper St. Clair, Etna, and Shafer) in Allegheny County have opted into Community Rating Systems (CRS) to manage activities that exceed minimum NFIP requirements.

Over the past decade more flooding in the United States is occurring in the Mississippi River Valley, Midwest, and Northeast, while domestic coastal flooding has doubled in a matter of decades. Advanced preparation can save communities time and money and protect citizens. Regional strategies are critical to establish emergency and disaster preparation to minimize flood impacts.

The Ongoing Debate Over Disaster Relief and Climate Change Collide

After more than a year of negotiations, the Senate appears to have moved closer to an agreement on disaster funding for Puerto Rico, Florida, and California. 

According to Politico, Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, respectively, and the President are near an agreement that will provide $17 billion in assistance to communities recently impacted by disasters, though the amount going directly to Puerto Rico remains under discussion.  

Sadly, it is likely that the debate around how much the federal government should spend to respond to the impacts of disasters on states, counties, cities, and regions will continue as more and more data suggest that climate change and weather-related disasters are likely to be on-going and have more severe consequences than previously thought. 

Early Monday, hundreds of scientists, working under the auspices of the United Nations, gathered in Paris for the release of a summary report that was approved by 132 nations, including the United States.  The report focuses on the unanticipated impact that climate change and weather-related disasters are likely to have.  New and profoundly significant impacts on plants and animals and the ecosystems in which they live, and upon which humans are dependent, are now predicted.  

The report states that changes in weather patterns such as those being experienced in the Midwest and Mississippi and Missouri River Basins right now, the severity of storms and sea level rise, the elimination of coastal wetlands and inundation of fresh water supplies by salt water, and continued melting of the polar ice caps, will result in the extinction of a million plant and animal species. The report adds that once flourishing ecosystems are likely to all but disappear because humans are transforming the earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically.

While short term political battles, such as the one we are seeing over disaster relief for Puerto Rico and some states, are likely to continue, there can be no doubt, given the most recent reports on climate change, that funding for disaster relief will continue into the foreseeable future as we face an increasing number of climate change and weather-related disasters.

Earth Day 2019: Regional Councils are Gearing Up for Bike to Work Events

Happy Earth Day! Regional councils across the country are celebrating today by spreading information on environmental issues and earth-friendly activities.

One of the activities that councils are promoting today is bicycle commuting. National Bike to Work Day will be held May 17th, and many councils have biking events planned either on the 17th or another date in May and June.

As both transportation and environmental planners can tell you, transportation leaves a significant environmental footprint. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions originate from the transportation sector.

Each commuter who chooses to bike to work and keep a car off the road lowers emissions. Each individual trip adds up, and studies indicate that even a moderate increase in biking trips can create a significant regional impact.

Check out the events below to see how regional councils are planning and supporting regional Bike to Work and Bike Month initiatives.

Hosting your own Bike to Work event? Send your stories to eli.spang@narc.org or use the hashtag #RegionsLead on social media!

Regional Bike to Work Events:

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)

On May 17, MWCOG’s Commuter Connections program is partnering with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association for their annual bike to work event. The first 20,000 Bike to Work registrants will receive an event T-shirt that they can pick up at one of the 115 pit stops that will be set up throughout the greater DC area. The pit stops will offer refreshments and a raffle for a new bike. More information can be found on the event site.

Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG)

Colorado’s weather can be unpredictable in May, so the State of Colorado declared the fourth Wednesday of June as Bike to Work Day (June 26). DRCOG’s Way to Go program convenes city and county governments and local organizations to plan the event, which aims to educate commuters on the benefits of biking. The event features pit stops, food, group rides, apparel, and awesome posters.  

Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC)

HGAC holds a Bike to Work event on May 16, and also celebrates the entire month of May as Bike Month. As commuting only makes up a portion of all trips, H-GAC also uses Bike Month to encourage other biking trips to go to schools, libraries, and restaurants; and to visit friends and family.

North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG)

NCTCOG also celebrates Bike Month. This includes a Bike to Work Day on May 17 and multiple local Bike to Work and Bike with the Mayor events. NCTCOG also uses Bike Month to encourage use of TryParkingIt.com, their ride-match and trip-logging program, which helps commuters in the region match up with transit, biking, and walking buddies.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund: An Update

On March 6th, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio introduced the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019 (H.R. 1497), which would reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program.

The following day, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Subcommittee discussed CWSRF reauthorization in a hearing titled “The Clean Water State Revolving Fund: How Federal Infrastructure Investment Can Help Communities Modernize Water Infrastructure and Address Affordability Challenges.”

Recent actions and statements by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle indicate an interest in both moving an infrastructure package forward and including water infrastructure in that package. This reopening of discussion on CWSRF reauthorization prompts a review of the current state of the CWSRF and the potential opportunities and challenges presented by reauthorization.

CWSRF Background

The CWSRF dates to 1987 when Congress amended the Clean Water Act (CWA) creating a capitalization grant program to finance infrastructure for sewage treatment and water quality improvement. Prior to 1987, Congress funded public wastewater infrastructure using a direct grant program that would cover 55% and 75% of construction costs for qualifying public projects.

The CWSRF program was developed with the intention of transitioning to a system in which state and local governments would cover 100% of wastewater infrastructure financing. Congress set the target date of this transition as fiscal year (FY) 1995 – a date coinciding with the expiration of the CWA’s original authorizations in 1994 – and authorized the program for $18 billion to be distributed between fiscal years 1987 to 1995.

Unresolved funding needs and administrative challenges prevented the realization of a complete transition to state and local funding as the program reached the end of its authorization in FY 1995. While the CWSRF has not been reauthorized since then, Congress has continued appropriating funds for the program. Annual appropriations amounts through FY 2018 can be seen in the table below.

Table 1: Clean Water Appropriations FY 1987 – FY 2019

Source: CRS Funding for EPA Water Infrastructure: A Fact Sheet

How Does the CWSRF Work?

All 50 states as well as Puerto Rico currently participate in the CWSRF program. The EPA provides capitalization grants that serve as seed funding the each state’s revolving fund. States then use their funds to issue loans, buy local debt, and issue guarantees.

The primary benefit of CWSRF loans is the below-market interest rates that they provide to states. In 2017, the average interest rate of CWSRF loans was 1.4%, significantly lower than the market rate of 3.5%.

More information on the program with details on loan issuance and leveraging can be found in the EPA’s SRF Fund Management Handbook.

Repayments and interest earned from outstanding loans return to the states revolving funds and are then used to develop new loans. States are also able to increase financing capacity by leveraging their funds and issuing fund-backed bonds. The figure below shows how leveraging has increased the impact of federal dollars provided to the program.

Figure 1: Leveraging of Federal Capitalization Grants

Source: EPA CWSRF 2017 Annual Report

Proposed Reauthorization Legislation

The bill introduced on March 6th, the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2019 (H.R. 1497), would authorize $23.5 billion in wastewater infrastructure investment over the next five years, with $20 billion dedicated to capitalization of the CWSRF. Under this authorization, Congress would be able to appropriate up to $4 billion per year for the program. This would be more than double recent CWSRF appropriations, which totaled $1.39 billion in FY 2017 and $1.64 billion in FY 2018.

CWSRF reauthorization legislation has been introduced before, but has never passed. The most recent effort was made during the 115th Congress with the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act of 2017 (H.R. 2510). Compared to previous years, H.R. 1497 has an increased chance of passage as both Congress and the Administration have identified infrastructure as a priority for the 116th Congress and indicated an interest in developing bipartisan legislation on the subject.

Funding Challenges for the CWSRF

Funding the CWSRF program presents a significant challenge for lawmakers. While other infrastructure domains like surface transportation benefit from user-driven revenue streams like the federal gas tax, an equivalent has not yet been identified for water infrastructure.

One recently proposed bill would increase the corporate income tax rate from 21% to 24.5%, sending $35 billion a year to a water trust fund that would be used to fund the CWSRF. Another proposal, introduced during the 115th Congress, would create a water trust fund by allowing businesses that produce bottled products to voluntarily pay a $0.03 per unit fee in exchange for the right to place a label on their products indicating their commitment to clean water resources protection.

Despite consensus that water infrastructure investment needs to be increased, all reauthorization proposals that require increased spending of general funds are likely to cause disagreement among lawmakers. Consequently, the identification of other sources of revenue would increase the chance of successful passage of a CWSRF reauthorization.

Reauthorization Potential in 2019

There are indications that CWSRF reauthorization legislation may gain traction as a part of the broad effort to develop infrastructure legislation during the 116th Congress. Recent congressional hearings and comments by House leadership and the Administration show that support exists on both sides of the aisle for moving infrastructure legislation forward and funding water projects.

Uncertainty remains, however, and this uncertainty is encapsulated well by the Administration’s recently released FY 2020 budget which cuts the CWSRF program budget by $600 million, while also providing a $200 billion placeholder for “additional infrastructure investments” that would likely include water infrastructure investment.