Federal Advocacy Update

In this issue:

Take Action on Infrastructure Investment

Angelina Panettieri, 202.626.3196

From May 11 through May 15, NLC and its partners around the United States are celebrating Infrastructure Week, to raise awareness around the country's infrastructure investment needs.
Cities construct and maintain the majority of our nation's infrastructure and depend on a solid infrastructure network to provide services and clean water, keep goods moving, provide safe and healthy communities to their residents, and grow their local economies. That's why we need you to join us next week in calling on Congress to invest in infrastructure - especially surface transportation infrastructure. Without congressional action, the federal surface transportation program will expire at the end of the month.

Call or email your members of Congress to tell them that your community needs the federal government to hold up its end of the partnership to support our transportation infrastructure by ensuring funding certainty for the federal program. As local transit needs adapt to new lifestyles and new technologies, and local governments find their revenue-generating authority limited by states, we need a new, long-term, well-funded federal transportation program.

In addition to advocating for better investment in infrastructure, learn more about infrastructure next week through these NLC events:

Monday, May 11, 1:30-4:00 pm ET
Solving the Infrastructure Crisis Through Public-Private Partnerships: We're live-tweeting this forum on public-private partnerships (P3s), including water, wastewater, and public buildings, so follow the hashtag #P3sRebuildRenew to get some useful tips!

Tuesday, May 12
Big 7 Congressional Briefing: Seven national state and local government organizations, including NLC, will host a Congressional briefing focused on transportation funding. Check out our Facebook page for a recap.

Wednesday, May 13
Infrastructure Virtual Advocacy Day: As NLC leaders and our allies converge on Capitol Hill, join us from home to tell Congress to support infrastructure investments and fix the transportation funding crisis. Sign up now to take part--you only need five minutes!

Thursday, May 14, 2:00-3:00 pm ET
Exploring Local Broadband Initiatives Webinar: We're offering a free webinar for our members, all about you can leverage your position as a city official to increase broadband access in your community.

Friday, May 15, 2:00-3:15 pm ET
Innovative Approaches to Infrastructure Funding: Get solutions to back transportation projects in this free webinar.

NLC Supports Congressional Action on "Waters of the U.S." - Your Action Needed

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, NLC announced its support for House and Senate legislation to halt the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) process on the "waters of the U.S." proposed rule.

Bills in both chambers would require the agencies to withdraw the current proposed rule and start the process over by conducting a federalism consultation with state and local governments, as well as a comprehensive cost analysis examining the impact of the proposed rule and all Clean Water Act (CWA) programs.

In the House, a vote is scheduled on the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act (H.R. 1732) early next week. NLC is urging members to contact their representatives and urge them to support H.R. 1732. In the Senate, a bipartisan group led by Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) introduced a similar bill, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act (S. 1140).

Background

EPA and the Corps are developing a rule to change the Clean Water Act definition of "waters of the U.S." The proposed rule, which is currently under review by the Office of Management and Budget, will have broad implications for local governments, including impacts to municipal stormwater and floodwater managements systems. The final rule is expected in the near future.

NLC submitted comments to EPA and the Corps on the proposed rule, raising concerns about further confusion over what waters will fall under federal jurisdiction, leading to unnecessary project delays, added costs to local governments and inconsistency across the country. NLC asked the agencies to clarify language and provide specific exemptions for essential local government systems, such as public safety ditches, water conveyances, stormwater systems, green infrastructure, and more. NLC reiterated concerns about the rulemaking process, including the need for a federalism consultation with state and local governments and a meaningful cost-benefit analysis.

Local Leaders Fight to Protect CDBG Funding

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

On April 28, just as the annual appropriations process got underway, NLC joined 20 other national organizations on Capitol Hill to educate and raise awareness among members of Congress and their staffs on the ways in which cities invest Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to support their communities. During the event, Mayor Setti Warren of Newton, MA; Commissioner George P. Hartwick III of Dauphin County, PA; Tim Ware, Executive Director of the George Washington Regional Commission; and House Representatives James McGovern and Joe Kennedy all voiced their strong support for greater CDBG , which has been cut by nearly $1 billion since FY2010. All also encouraged the congressional staff present to take the time to meet with local officials and the CDBG coalition member organizations to learn more about the impact of CDBG on communities in their own congressional districts. 

NLC Urges Congressional to Match Transportation Funds to Local Need

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

NLC President Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah and the leadership of five other national organizations representing elected and appointed officials announced a common legislative agenda for federal transportation funding in a letter to Members of Congress. In the letter, NLC and its partners make the case that local governments are responsible for the vast majority of the nation's transportation system, and that federal funding should reflect needs on the ground. To accomplish the necessary shift in federal policy, the organizations urge support for a long term federal transportation bill that shifts a greater percentage of federal funds to local governments and their regional organizations under the Surface Transportation Program (STP), the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program (CMAQ), and a restoration of federal funding for municipally owned bridges.

NLC Supports GIS Data-Sharing Bill

Julia Pulidindi, 202 626 3176

NLC, along with the National Association of Counties, the National Association of Regional Councils, and the National States Geographic Information Council, called on Congress this week to take action on S. 740, the Geospatial Data Act of 2015. This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Mark Warner (D-VA), would require federal agencies to share their geographic information system (GIS) data. Local governments would be able to use this GIS information for a number of applications, ranging from meeting environmental goals, more efficient land use planning, and increasing public safety efforts. The benefits of this legislation could also lead to more effective partnering that would allow government agencies to share costs and save money for taxpayers.

Federal agencies have been required since 1990 to make GIS data publicly available, but this requirement has been poorly enforced. S. 740 would codify the 1990 Office of Management and Budget circular that requires GIS data sharing, and would also establish the Federal Geographic Data Committee to develop, implement, and review policies, practices, and standards relating to GIS data.

DOT Rule Addresses Tank Car Safety and Routing, Operating Requirements

Carolyn Berndt, 202.626.3101

Last week, the Secretary of Transportation published a final rule for the safe transportation of flammable liquids by rail. The final rule, developed in coordination with Canada, focuses on safety improvements that are designed to prevent accidents, mitigate consequences in the event of an accident, and support emergency response. NLC commented on the proposed rule when it was released last year.

Important for local governments is a provision that, while not going as far as NLC advocated, improves information sharing between railroads and state and local officials by requiring a point of contact for information related to the routing of hazardous materials through communities.

The rule applies to high-hazard flammable trains, defined as a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through a train.

NLC also advocated for an aggressive phase-out of the older-model, more puncture-prone tank cars known as DOT-111s. The rule would phase this model out by 2018 and require that a slightly newer model tank car be retrofitted by 2020.

Additionally, the rule requires railroads to perform a routing analysis that considers safety and security factors, including "track type, class, and maintenance schedule" and "track grade and curvature," and select a route based on its findings.

Finally, the rule restricts all high-hazard flammable trains to 50 mph in all areas and restricts high-hazard flammable trains that contain any tank cars that do not meet the enhanced standards to 40 mph in high-threat urban areas.

This proposal concludes two years of work by DOT to address concerns brought to light by a number of significant rail accidents involving hazardous materials that caused tragic impacts on the affected communities, including train derailments outside Rockford, Illinois in 2009 that killed one person, in Lac Megantic Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people, in Casselton, North Dakota in 2013, Lynchburg, Virginia in 2014 and near Mount Carbon, West Virginia earlier this year.

You can view a summary of the rule here and the entire rule here.

New Grant Opportunities Available for Community Policing Programs

Yucel Ors, 202.626.3124

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced a $19 million Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Pilot Partnership for the purchase of BWCs, training, and other technical assistance. The intent of the program is to assist agencies in developing, implementing, and evaluating a BWC program as one tool in a law enforcement agency's comprehensive problem-solving approach to enhance officer interactions with the public and build community trust. This funding requires a 50% in-kind match. Additionally, the agency expects to make up to 50 awards with the BWC Pilot Implementation Program solicitation. Approximately one-third of the awards will be made to small agencies. While BWC equipment may be purchased under this program, applicants must establish a strong BWC policy framework and requisite training policies before purchasing cameras. Federal funding will not support data storage.

In addition to the BWC grant program, the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) also recently released details for its FY2015 COPS Hiring Program and Community Policing Development grant programs. The solicitation for both programs is expected to open mid-May.

U.S. House Moves on Transportation-HUD, Energy-Water Appropriations

Michael Wallace, 202.626.3025

Before adjourning for a brief in-district work period, the House took action on two FY 2016 spending bills key to cities: a bill to fund the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and a bill to fund the Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation-HUD approved the first draft of a spending bill. The subcommittee draft would provide $55.27 billion overall in discretionary spending, a $1.5 billion increase from the current $53.8 billion level, resulting in a slight boost for housing subsidies and level funding for transportation. However, the draft is $9.7 billion below the President's proposed budget, which proposed a significant increase in infrastructure investment under the White House "Grow America Act". Appropriators pointed to the uncertainty around the federal Highway Trust Fund as a reason for keeping funding level. Among other local priorities, the subcommittee draft would maintain $3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), reflecting a victory for local officials who have long advocated for an end to cuts.

The House also passed by a vote of 240-177 the Energy-Water appropriations bill for FY2016. Under the bill, DOE energy efficiency and renewable energy programs received a total of $1.657 billion for research, development, demonstration and deployment activities advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. Of that, $190 million is for the Weatherization Assistance Program, which aims to reduce energy costs for low-income households by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. The bill did not provide funding for a new Local Energy Program (similar to the existing State Energy Program) that the President requested in his budget.