Water, Energy Legislation Hitch Ride on Omnibus Appropriations Bill


  • Carolyn Berndt
December 22, 2020 - (4 min read)

As Congress wrapped up the 116th session with several priority items remaining on the to-do list, Congressional leaders attached several bills to the must-pass omnibus appropriations bill funding the federal government in FY21.

Water Resources Development Act

In sticking with Congress’s biennial schedule for passing water resources bills, House and Senate Committee leaders began working earlier this year on legislation to authorize projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) for flood control, navigation and ecosystem restoration – albeit taking different approaches. In the House, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA, H.R. 7575) focused solely on the water resources provisions under the Army Corps, while the Senate tied together Army Corps provision with both clean water and drinking water provisions in two separate bills—America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3591) and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3590).

Although the House passed its bill in July and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed its bills in May, Congressional leaders ultimately could not reach agreement on the clean water and drinking water provisions, leaving only the water resources provisions included in the final package. After the House passed the revised bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (S. 1811) on Dec. 8 by voice vote, with time running short, the bill was attached to the omnibus appropriations and coronavirus relief bill, where it passed both chambers on Dec. 21.

While NLC had advocated for both water infrastructure and water resources provisions be included in the final package, we are nonetheless pleased to see Congress’s commitment to passing this important legislation on the biennial basis. Local leaders look forward to working with Congressional leaders next Congress to advance local government water infrastructure priorities.

Key Provisions for Local Governments

  • Authorizes 46 water resources projects, 27 feasibility studies and six comprehensive river basin studies. Deauthorizes up to $10 billion in outdated project construction authorities.
  • Unlocks $10 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund by providing the authority to appropriate increasing amounts of additional funds annually for harbor maintenance needs from the existing Trust Fund balance.
  • Renews Congressional support for water resources projects that promote the beneficial reuse of sediment.
  • Reaffirms the commitment to greater use of natural and nature-based projects by ensuring natural alternatives are fully evaluated by the Army Corps and are provided the same cost-share as structural alternatives.
  • Authorizes the Army Corps to study, design and construct water resources projects for communities that have been subjected to repetitive flooding events and have received emergency flood assistance, including construction of temporary barriers. This authority is directed at helping repetitive loss communities, especially those in economically-disadvantaged communities, obtain critical flood protection.
  • Allows for the calculation of sea level rise benefits.
  • Directs the Army Corps to carry out a demonstration program to assist in detecting, treating, and preventing harmful algal blooms.
  • Authorizes the Army Corps to provide technical assistance for resiliency planning, with priority given to economically disadvantaged communities and communities with repetitive flooding.

Energy Bill

Congress has come close to passing comprehensive energy legislation over the past several years, but the Energy Act of 2020 is the first package to be enacted since 2007, allocating over $35 billion in spending authorizations for clean energy research and demonstration projects to help combat climate change over the next decade. The bill pulls from the House-passed Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act (H.R. 4447) and the Senate American Energy Innovation Act (S. 2657).

Among the efficiency provisions included in the bill are provisions that would boost energy and water efficiency in federal buildings, provide assistance to retrofit schools to become more energy efficient, and reauthorize and increase the authorization level for the Weatherization Assistance Program, as well as expand the program to include installation of renewable energy. The bill also supports grid modernization, the integration of electric vehicles onto the grid and “smart building” technologies.

Additionally, the bill includes a number of energy-related tax extenders. It extends the renewable energy production tax credit for one year and the investment tax credit for two years, and makes waste-to-energy technology eligible for the investment tax credit. Finally, the bill makes the commercial building tax deduction for energy efficiency improvements permanent.

View a summary of Division Z (energy) and Division AA (WRDA).

About the Author

Carolyn Berndt

About the Author

Carolyn Berndt is the Legislative Director for Sustainability on the Federal Advocacy team at the National League of Cities.