Federal Advocacy Update

House Passes Budget Agreement; Senate Expected to Follow
Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

On the House's last day of the year, it overwhelmingly approved the Bipartisan Budget Act, with a vote of 334-94. The legislation is a budget blueprint that sets federal discretionary spending levels for FY2014 and FY2015 for the House and Senate. The legislation calls for an increase of $63 billion in spending levels above the caps imposed by sequestration for both years through offsets to mandatory programs and federal fee increases. The Senate is expected to follow the House in approving the legislation sometime next week in before it adjourns for the holidays.

The bipartisan budget deal paves the way for Congress to avoid another government shutdown on January 15, when the current continuing spending resolution expires, and to restore some semblance of order to the annual appropriations process.

Assuming the Senate approves the legislation, Congress will have a short window, until January 15 to consider and pass FY2014 appropriations bills, which allocate federal funding to programs important to local governments ranging from housing, infrastructure, education, job training, and public safety. Following that, the Congress is expected to begin work on the FY 2015 appropriations process.

Besides the potential to restore order to the appropriations process, NLC leadership expressed optimism that passage of the bill might also clear the space for Congress to focus on other issues.

Said NLC President Chris Coleman upon news of the House's action, "We commend the House for passing a budget deal that will allow Congress to concentrate on the critical issues facing the American people. Cities and their residents need Washington to focus on promoting economic growth and prosperity, fixing the nation's broken immigration system and providing an equal playing field so that Main Street retailers can remain competitive with online retailers.

"With this vote, we hope Congress will restore some certainty to a broken budgeting process that has kept local partners guessing and created economic uncertainty throughout the long economic recovery. We call on the U.S. Senate to take swift action and work to end the unnecessary and counterproductive fiscal fighting that we have seen over the past year."

NLC's President Urges House Committee to Protect Transit Program Funding
Leslie Wollack, 202.626.3029

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NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, MN, testifies before a House subcommittee

Citing the value of transit investment for long-term economic impact and the ability to generate future economic returns, NLC President Mayor Chris Coleman urged a House panel to continue funding the Department of Transportation's New and Small Starts transit program. Mayor Coleman emphasized the federal partnership that allows cities to invest in transit and the intermodal transportation connections that connect cities. He also acknowledged the program's vulnerability.

"Through the New Starts program, the federal government has proven to be an effective partner in expanding transit services and underwriting economic growth," noted Coleman. "While demand is growing nationally for New Starts funding, the program faces threats in Congress. Unlike most other federal transportation programs that are funded by the gas tax, New Starts is paid for with general funds and is subject to sequestration and yearly budget cuts."

In his testimony, Mayor Coleman also spoke of the economic impact the New Starts Program is having in St Paul. With six months before the opening of the New Starts funded Central Corridor in St. Paul, Minnesota, the light rail service has generated more than $1.2 billion in new housing and employment opportunities within the 18 station area along the 11-mile route. NLC 1st Vice President Mayor Ralph Becker has a similar story with the opening of Salt Lake City's brand new streetcar which generated $400 million in private investments before it opened.

Anticipating the expiration of the current transportation authorization program, MAP-21, at the end of September, the hearing this week before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Highways and Transit Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Thomas Petri (WI) marks the beginning of the reauthorization debate. With the recent adoption of transportation authorization policy, NLC and city leaders are poised to have a strong voice in the debate as it moves forward.

Read Mayor Coleman's full testimony here »

NLC Urges Nationwide Consistency for Stormwater Compliance
Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

In a case involving the Iowa League of Cities decided last spring, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down efforts by the EPA to modify Clean Water Act rules without engaging the public in a formal rulemaking process. Since the Court's ruling (and denial of EPA's request for a rehearing), the Agency has decided to limit the application of the decision to only those states in the Eighth Circuit (Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) and to consider the Court's decision on a case by case basis in other states.

NLC recently joined a group of associations to urge EPA to apply the Iowa League of Cities v EPA decision uniformly across the country. Besides that letter, NLC is considering additional legal and non legal strategies to ensure that municipal interests nationwide are protected from this kind of overreach by the EPA.

In its opinion in the court case, the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals renounced EPA's attempts to revise, by using guidance letters instead of formal rulemaking procedures, rules concerning wet weather permitting and compliance options available to municipal wastewater and stormwater facilities. Specifically, the Court ruled that two EPA letters constituted revised rules that attempted to limit wet weather treatment options (i.e., the use of blending) and prevent the use of mixing zones for bacteria applicable to, among other things, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and stormwater discharges. The Court also concluded that a blending prohibition was beyond EPA's statutory authority (Iowa League of Cities v. EPA, 711 F.3d 844 (8th Cir. 2013)). By EPA's own estimate, the blending ban alone would have imposed over $150 billion in municipal costs nationwide.

NLC Asks Supreme Court to Consider Clean Water Act Permitting Case
Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

NLC joined other organizations in asking the Supreme Court to consider the case of Mingo Logan Coal Company v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a case which affects permitting for dredge and fill activities impacting certain bodies of water. NLC opposes the recent decision by the D.C. Circuit Court to allow EPA to nullify Clean Water Act permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at any time, even if the permit was issued several years prior and the permittee has maintained compliance in the interim.

Although this case involved mountaintop removal mining, this ruling may impact other dredge and fill activities affecting "Waters of the United States" that require Section 404 permits, such as surface mining, agriculture, and construction and development. Before this decision, parties could be confident that once a permit was obtained, they could conduct dredge and fill activities as long as they remained in compliance. The court's decision removes that element of certainty.

While the specific facts of this case relate to ongoing fill activities, the broadly written language of the decision could have sweeping implications in other areas. Particularly troubling is the question of whether EPA may now require permittees who have permanently filled in wetlands to face penalties and the possible removal of the fill material. Private parties who have previously engaged in filling activities - which may include building on the site - now have no way of knowing if EPA may suddenly decide to alter the conditions of their permit years, or even decades, in the future.

Read NLC's amicus brief to the Supreme Court »

NLC Calls for Cost Consideration in Proposed Landfill Rule
Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers a proposed landfill rulemakingNLC is urging the agency to consider a cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the estimated implementation costs of the proposed options do not outweigh the public health or environmental benefits. In comments to EPA, NLC further cautioned EPA about the economic impact of compliance costs and the potential for unintended consequences, such as exacerbating illegal dumping.

The rulemaking is aimed at reducing "landfill gas," which occurs from the decomposition of organic wastes and consists of 50 percent methane, 50 percent carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of non-methane organic compounds, which contains hazardous air pollutants.

As part of the rulemaking, EPA is considering several options for changing the current rule requirements, including:

  • Lowering or removing the landfill size threshold,
  • Lowering the emission threshold,
  • Shortening the time allowed for gas collection system installation,
  • Shortening the time allowed for wellfield expansion.

Read more about the proposed rulemaking and the impact on cities »

EPA Seeks Local Feedback on PCB Removal Costs
Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently seeking information from state and local governments on the costs associated with a proposed rulemaking on PCB removal. Last month, EPA held a Federalism Consultation, in which NLC participated, with state and local government groups to provide an overview of potential changes under consideration to the PCB Use Authorizations.

Because of their negative health effects, EPA implemented a ban on PCBs in 1979. The manufacture of products containing PCBs ceased, but existing products were not all required to be removed. With this rulemaking, EPA may require the removal of additional PCB-containing electrical equipment, such as fluorescent light ballasts (ie, the fixture, not the bulb) manufactured before 1979, which are typically found in daycares/schools, hospitals, public housing, and other public and commercial buildings. While a U.S. Department of Energy rule calls for the removal of old fluorescent light ballasts by 2020, this rulemaking would accelerate that process.

EPA is seeking additional information on the costs associated with the proposed rulemaking, as well as the presence of older fluorescent light ballasts in schools and any plans underway to replace them. EPA will accept comments on the proposed rulemaking until January 16, 2014. NLC plans to submit comments, and encourages local governments and state leagues to submit comments, share cost information, and distribute the Agency's fluorescent ballast questionnaire to local school districts.

Written comments and cost information should be directed to simons.tom@epa.gov, with a copy to hanson.andrew@epa.gov and berndt@nlc.org.

More information on identifying and removing PCB-containing fluorescent light ballasts and the rulemaking »