NARC HEALS Act Summary

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) took to the Senate floor last week to introduce the HEALS Act, the Senate Republicans’ plan for a coronavirus relief package that would follow up the CARES Act passed earlier this year. “Our nation stands now at an important crossroads in this battle,” McConnell said. “We have one foot in the pandemic and one foot in the recovery. The American people need more help. They need it to be comprehensive. And they need it to be carefully tailored to this crossroads.”

The HEALS Act, an acronym that stands for Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools, would extend and modify several CARES Act provisions as well as provide new support for areas of critical need. The plan comes with a price tag around $1 trillion, noticeably smaller than the $3 trillion HEROES Act proposal passed by the House back in May.

Structurally, the plan is a composite of several different pieces of legislation, each targeting a different priority area, including unemployment benefits, liability protection, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) continuation, funding for schools, and the development of “Rescue Committees,” among others. Below are links to the text of the individual bills that make up the HEALS Act plan:

The HEALS Act notably does not provide additional aid for state and local governments. However, it would provide some flexibility for previously allocated CARES Act dollars, allowing these funds to be spent past the original December 30, 2020 deadline and expanding allowable uses of relief payments to include lost revenue.

NARC will continue to advocate for regional priorities in upcoming coronavirus legislation. Most recently, NARC joined with local partners at the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) and the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) on a letter urging congressional leaders to include local transportation funding needs in upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation. The full letter can be read here.

Below is a bill-by-bill summary highlighting the most significant items in each piece of the HEALS Act plan:

The American Workers, Families, And Employers Assistance Act

Key items: Unemployment extension, stimulus checks, and state and local funding flexibility

This bill, sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would extend the current unemployment supplement provided by the CARES Act but at a lower benefit level. The bill would reduce the previous $600-per-week supplement down to $200 per week while states work on implementing a new supplement system that would be calculated to provide workers with no more than 70% of their previous wages.

The bill would also provide another round of stimulus checks in a manner like those distributed following the CARES Act. Those with incomes under $75,000 per year would receive a $1,200 direct payment and couples making less than $150,000 per year would receive a $2,400 payment. Additionally, those with dependents would receive $500 for each dependent regardless of that dependent’s age. Payments for those with higher incomes would be reduced, with payments phasing out for those making more than $99,000 as individuals and $198,000 as couples. Phaseouts would be set higher for those with dependents.

The bill would also provide some flexibility for state and local governments to spend previously allocated funds provided through the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) in the CARES Act. The HEALS Act does not provide additional aid for state and local governments.The provisions for increased flexibility of CRF funds include extending the date for these funds to be spent from December 30, 2020 to 90 days after the last day of the governments’ fiscal year 2021 as well as expanding allowable uses of relief payments to include lost revenue (up to 25% of their CRF allocation.)

For more information, check out the full text of the bill as well as the section-by-section summary.

The Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required To Kickstart The Economy Act (SAFE TO WORK Act)

Key item: Liability protections

This bill, led by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), would provide businesses, schools, and healthcare providers that follow certain guidelines with a five-year liability shield against lawsuits regarding coronavirus. Republicans have indicated that they view liability protections as a critical inclusion in the next aid package while Democrats have voiced opposition on the grounds that this type of measure prioritizes protection for employers and corporations.

For more information, check out the bill text.

Continuing Small Business Recovery and Paycheck Protection Program Act

Key item: PPP continuation

Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced the Continuing Small Business Recovery and Paycheck Protection Program Act, which would permit some small businesses to receive another round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans. The bill would streamline the forgiveness process and would create a $60 billion working capital fund for the hardest hit businesses.

For more information, check out the bill’s full text and its section-by-section summary.

Safely Back to School and Back to Work Act 

Key item: Funding for schools and childcare

This bill from Senate Health and Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) would offer relief for some student loan borrowers (although it would not provide an extension for the student loan deferral provided by the CARES Act). Senator Alexander’s proposal also provides additional funding for schools and childcare providers including $105 billion for schools, $15 billion for childcare, $16 billion for testing, and $40 billion for vaccines and other health research. A section-by-section summary of the proposal can be found here.

Time to Rescue United States’ Trusts (TRUST) Act

Key item: Creation of Rescue Committees

This part of the HEALS Act comes from a bill that was initially proposed in 2019 by Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) and is now being resurrected with some minor changes. The legislation would create “Rescue Committees” to research changes needed to ensure the solvency of government trust funds with outlays greater than $20 billion, including those for highways, Medicare hospital insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, and Social Security Old-Age and Survivors Insurance.

A note on the Highway Trust Fund: Since the Highway Trust Fund has more than $20 billion in outlays it would be a recipient of a “rescue committee.” The bipartisan committee would be comprised of 12 members of the House and Senate and would work to create a strategy and accompanying legislation to put the trust fund on a path to solvency by June 1, 2021.

A one pager of the legislation is available here, text of the legislation is available here, and a section-by-section of the legislation is available here.

The Coronavirus Response Additional Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020

Key item: Funding for a range of health and economic aid programs

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) sponsored this $306 billion spending proposal that would allocate funds for a variety of federal agencies and programs. There is some overlap between this funding proposal and some of the other elements of the HEALS Act plan, such as the $105 billion in funding for elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education.

Below are some of the largest funding recipients as well as other items of note for regions:

  • $105 billion for elementary, secondary and post-secondary education
  • $16 billion for COVID-19 testing
  • $25 billion for hospitals
  • $15 billion for childcare, including $5 billion through the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) and $10 billion in a new flexible grant program
  • $10 billion for airports
  • $1.5 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is administered by county governments in 13 states
  • $2.2 billion for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (Section 8 vouchers)

The Restoring Critical Supply Chains and Intellectual Property Act

Key item: Support for domestic PPP production

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced this proposal, which aims to move personal protection equipment (PPE) production to the United States from China using a $7.5 billion tax credit.

For more information read the full text of the bill.

Supporting America’s Restaurant Workers Act

Key item: Business meal tax deduction increase

This bill proposed by Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) would increase the tax deduction for business meals from 50% to 100%.

The bill’s full text can be found here.

Further Reading

For more reading on HEALS Act provisions regarding local government, check out the following resources from NARC and other local government partners:

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.

Summer Federal Appropriations Update

As we approach the dog days of summer, the federal appropriations process is finally heating up. This follows several months of being on hold as Congress tried to address the growing coronavirus pandemic, the staggering drop in unemployment, and cries for action regarding racial injustice and police brutality.

With Election Day less than four months away, several critical questions remain. Will Congress finish its consideration of all twelve appropriations bills before the September 30th fiscal year (FY) 2021 deadline? What are the chances of a continuing resolution and what length will it be? And what impact will the election results have on how the appropriation process plays out? We will consider these questions and more below.

What is happening in the House?

After months on hold because of the focus on coronavirus and police reform packages, the House is now pushing through their appropriations markups at lightning speed. The full Committee passed their FY 2021 302(b) subcommittee allocations last week along with five appropriations bills: Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA, Legislative Branch, and State-Foreign Operations. The Committee wrapped up their consideration and approval of the remaining seven bills this week: Commerce-Justice-Science, Defense, Energy-Water Development, Financial Services-General Government, Homeland Security, Labor-HHS-Education, Transportation-HUD.

Initial reports are saying that Agriculture-Rural Development-FDA, Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA, and State-Foreign Operations bills will be combined into a minibus package and considered on the floor late next week. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) indicated that he wants the House to approve all twelve bills on the floor by the end of July. However, the Homeland Security bill might be held back because of concerns from progressive Democrats about funding levels for customs and border protection and immigrations and customs enforcement.

It is worth noting that these bills will probably be passed mostly or entirely along party lines. Since the Senate must reach a 60-vote threshold to end debate on appropriations bills, whereas the House only needs a majority vote, the Senate has to forge bills that are more bipartisan. This means that these more partisan House bills are likely to sit and not be taken up by the upper chamber for serious consideration.

What is happening in the Senate?

Unlike in the House, crickets can be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Committee has held just two hearings since March, and both were on issues unrelated to the FY 2021 appropriations process.

It was reported several weeks ago that partisan disagreements on police reform and COVID-19 spending is to blame for the delay of Senate appropriation bill markups. Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), noting that offering amendments was a key concern for Democrats, said “There is bipartisan agreement that we need to address the COVID-19 pandemic. And if we want to truly address the issues of racial injustice that George Floyd’s tragic death has brought to the surface… we need to appropriate money for programs that advance these issues.” Committee Republicans, led by Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), felt that these issues should be addressed outside of the appropriations process.

Markup notices for their appropriations bills were reportedly postponed due to these disagreements. While it is very likely that most of their bills are already drafted, we probably will not see any markups until the Committee leadership can agree to move forward in a bipartisan way.

What is going to happen next?

There is one thing that is all but guaranteed: there will be a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the federal government open past the September 30th deadline. Between the upcoming August recess and the desire of members to be home to campaign for competitive races, there are not a lot of congressional workdays left on the calendar.

This continuing resolution will likely be a short-term, stopgap solution just to get Congress through the FY 2021 deadline and election season. Although a specific date is hard to determine, it would likely extend current federal funding levels to at least early to mid-December.

The election outcome is also likely to influence how the federal appropriations wraps up. History tells us that during an election year, lawmakers are likely to hold an average of seven appropriations bills over until the next calendar year. They say to the victor goes the spoils – as well as the incentive to shape the final bills once the winning party takes control. If the Democrats win the presidency and/or the Senate, we can certainly expect them to punt the bills into 2021 when they will have more influence over the process.  

Stay tuned to eRegions, Transportation Thursdays and the Regions Lead blog for the latest federal appropriations updates.

GCoM & NARC Webinar: Regional Climate Action Planning and the GCoM Process

GCoM & NARC Webinar: Regional Climate Action Planning and the GCoM Process

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Each and every day we are learning of more and more COVID-19 cases. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced individuals in 20 states have been infected by the COVID-19 virus.
 
California and Washington State have declared states of emergency as increasing numbers of their residents become sick. King County, Washington leaders have urged at-risk residents to stay home and away from large groups of people. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Department of Public Health have declared a local and public health emergency in response to the increased spread of coronavirus across the Los Angeles region. And increasing numbers of cases in the Boston area are leading metropolitan Boston and Commonwealth officials to monitor closely the spread of the virus.
 
The National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) invites you to join a webinar on Wednesday, March 11, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. eastern that will examine the role that regional councils can play in addressing the COVID-19 epidemic. Leaders from the Puget Sound Regional Council (Seattle), Metropolitan Area Planning Council (Boston), and Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments (COG) will discuss how they are responding to the COVID-19 epidemic and the role regional councils are playing in efforts to contain the virus.

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.