Federal Update: New Congress Convenes, Revised "Waters of the U.S." Rule Proposed; Farm Bill Reauthorized

January 11, 2019
By Laura V. Garcia
Legislative News

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116th Congress Convenes

On Jan. 3, the 116th Congress convened for the first day of the congressional session. Among the Texas congressional delegation, there are nine new members in the House of Representatives. Those new members include Rep. Colin Allred (D-Dallas), Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston), Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso), Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D-Houston), Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), Rep. Chip Roy (R-Austin), Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano), and Rep. Ron Wright (R-Arlington).

Importantly, three of these new members are also former county officials. Congresswoman Escobar served as El Paso County judge; Congresswoman Garcia served as a Harris County commissioner; and Congressman Wright served as Tarrant County tax assessor-collector.

Revised “Waters of the U.S.” Rule Proposed

On Dec. 11, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a revised “Waters of the U.S.” rule that clarifies the types of bodies of water that are subject to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. The proposal would replace the initial regulations adopted in 2015, which have been challenged in litigation.

Many counties raised concerns about the initial 2015 rule because of the potential extensive impact the rule could have on county infrastructure, including roads, culverts, and drainage ditches, as more waters became federally regulated. The new proposed rule has not been officially published in the Federal Register yet. Once it is published, public comments will be accepted for 60 days after publication.

The revised rule establishes six categories of water that would be considered “waters of the United States,” including traditional navigable waters, tributaries, certain ditches, certain lakes and ponds, impoundments and adjacent wetlands. Additionally, the proposed rule outlines the types of water that would be excluded.

The EPA has several fact sheets available with additional information about the proposed rule revisions. The agency is also hosting a public informational webcast. While the original public webcast scheduled for Jan. 10 has been postponed due to a lapse in appropriations, updates on a future webcast date will be available on the EPA’s website.

Additional information about the proposed rule is also available on the National Association of Counties website.

Farm Bill Reauthorized for Five Years

Prior to adjourning in December, Congress passed a five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill. The legislation, also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (HR 2), addresses several programs of interest to counties, including rural development, water infrastructure, water quality issues, food assistance, conservation, and broadband infrastructure.

The final bill, which the president signed, expands grants for broadband telecommunications services in rural areas, and authorizes the interagency Council on Rural Community Innovation and Economic Development to help leverage federal resources for rural counties. It also establishes a Rural Innovation Strong Economy (RISE) grant program to help promote rural business development. Additionally, it includes a provision that would exclude certain incarcerated populations from the determination of whether certain areas qualify as rural for the purposes of program eligibility for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development funding.

Additional information about the final legislation is available on the National Association of Counties website.