Tiberi’s July Visit to DC, report to districts

I had the opportunity to be in Washington, DC in July, 2016. While there, I took time to conduct business for Montana’s Conservation Districts. I visited with staff in all three offices of our Congressional Delegates, and covered a variety of issues. Note that our Delegates are on summer break for the two conventions. In addition, I met with NACD CEO Jeremy Peters and Director of Government Affairs Coleman Garrison. Topics discussed at these meetings (in no particular order) included:

  • A review of the pertinent portions of the Water Policy Interim Committee’s recent meeting, especially as it relates to the study of the assumption of the 404 permit process by the State of Montana. Because of the inclusion of the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers, all three offices are interested in that issue They offered their assistance should we have something they can help with. See my report to you for more details about the WPIC meeting.
  • Invitations for all those I met with to both the Area Meetings and to the Convention in Sidney. We are hoping that Julie Goss from this year’s host, Richland County Conservation District, will send a formal invitation to all three Congressional Delegates to attend the Convention. I can help if needed.
  • Congressman Zinke’s staff informed me that the Congressman is interested in submitting some sort of legislation to encourage or require federal agencies to take into account in a more formal manner the thoughts and concerns of local people as the federal agencies go about their business. This is in response to concerns he has heard about federal actions moving too quickly in rural parts of the USA.
  • A discussion about the newly released document from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, concerning their goals and objectives for the next 10 years. I go into more detail about this document in my report to you about the Environmental Quality Council meeting. A summary may be seen here: http://fwp.mt.gov/doingBusiness/insideFwp/visionAndGuide/ In addition, the entire guide may be downloaded once you click to that link.
  • At the request of Cascade Conservation District, I inquired about the TPP, and how it would impact farmers and ranchers. According to Wikipedia, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is a trade agreement among twelve Pacific Rim The finalized proposal was signed on 4 February 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand, concluding seven years of negotiations. It is currently awaiting ratification to enter into force. The 30 chapters of the agreement aim to “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.”[5] The TPP contains measures to lower trade barriers, such as tariffs,[6] and establish an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.[5][7]
  • All three Delegates are in the gathering information stage for the TPP, and they currently have no position. From what I read about it, the TPP has a number of benefits for agriculture and for Montana. However, NACD informed me that not all sections of the agriculture economy would benefit. NACD currently has no position on the TPP. As last seen, both of our candidates for President of the United States were against the TPP. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Partnership for more information about this partnership.
  • The budget to operate the federal government is likely headed to what is known as a “continuing resolution,” or CR, for the federal fiscal year that begins on 1st October, 2016. When a CR is adopted, the agencies receive the same amounts of funds that they currently are allocated. However, there may be a burst of energy and interest in September when Congress returns to DC. Most of the people I visited with are leaning towards the CR. One official told me that there was talk of a CR for the entire federal fiscal year. This would be unprecedented. When I mentioned this to other officials, they all thought that approach would be mostly negative for all involved. I have not visited with our partners at NRCS yet to determine potential impacts to their agency should the CR path be taken.
  • I updated Congressional staff about the Montana Rangelands Partnership, as well as other programs in the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana program. I noted in particular the efforts we have made concerning sage grouse, and updated them about the new state sage grouse program and their efforts. I also invited field staff to participate in the soil health workshops that will take place around Montana in the coming months.
  • Several Congressional staff members will be in Helena in the next few weeks and I invited them to visit our office.
  • Jeremy Peters is interested in Montana as a possible location for one of NACD’s summer meetings. I’ll visit with Steve Hedstrom reference this and place the topic on the MACD Board of Director’s agenda for their conference call on 8th
  • I mentioned the four locations of the Montana Food and Agriculture Development Network to Congressional staffers. This is an interesting network that might be of value to Conservation Districts. I will send their update to you separately. In the meantime, here is the link to their website: http://agr.mt.gov/agr/Programs/Development/FADC/
  • I participated in the EPA Local Government Advisory Committee meeting in DC. We passed 23 recommendations to the Administrator on a wide variety of topics. These letters of recommendation will soon be posted on their website. You may also see past reports and letters of recommendations here: https://www.epa.gov/ocir/local-government-advisory-committee-lgac#about
  • Here’s a news article about the main issue we dealt with at the EPA LGAC meeting:

“EPA is charging its local government advisors with developing recommendations on a range of issues the agency may seek to include in its upcoming National Action Plan for Drinking Water, including ways to strengthen implementation of current lead and copper standards and improved approaches to addressing emerging and unregulated contaminants.

At July 28 meeting of the agency’s Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC), EPA charged the panel’s waters workgroup with making recommendations for its National Action Plan for Drinking Water.

The charge asks for the workgroup to develop specific recommendations for the full LGAC to consider in its advice to EPA, which it will ultimately use in draft reports to be submitted to the agency in 2017.

The agency launched development of its Action Plan in May 2016 as a “strategic engagement with key partners and stakeholders” to “develop and implement a national action plan to address the critical drinking water challenges,” according to a statement on EPA’s website by water chief Joel Beauvais.

The effort is intended to build upon the agency’s new work revising its Lead and Copper Rule, and was formed following EPA directives to states and local water officials in the wake of the Flint, MI, lead contamination crisis.

The charge specifically asks the group to consider: ways to increase communication and public awareness and accountability around SDWA implementation; how to address environmental justice and equity in infrastructure funding across federal, state, tribal and local governments; how to strengthen protections against lead in drinking water, including opportunities “to coordinate and collaborate on implementing the current Lead and Copper Rule, particularly in environmental justice communities,” and how to develop and implement approved approaches to its emerging and unregulated contaminant strategies.

Peter Grevatt, director of EPA’s office of ground water and drinking water, summarized the charge to the group as an opportunity to consider “a few key areas” and help with “advancing the new generation of SDWA implementation.”

He also acknowledged the need to strengthen federal oversight of regulatory implementation. “If you looked at Flint, there are plenty of conversations about where did oversight fail at the federal and state level. We can make the observation that there were really poor choices and at the same time, there are choices regulators were aware of and not able to somehow change,” he said. “We need to have a conversation about how we strengthen oversight.”

He added that the EPA Lead & Copper Rule (LCR) is “probably the poster child” for prominent SDWA regulations “and I think many of you are aware of the challenges at the local level.”

In addition, the draft charge states, the workgroup will look at “how EPA can better work with local governments and engage local governments on issues such as: What additional interactions between EPA and local governments would most effectively help local governments understand and best utilize health advisories for unregulated emerging contaminants? How can EPA best work with local governments to assure effective implementation of drinking water regulations such as the Lead and Copper Rule so that public health improvements are realized? What resources are needed at the local level to assist them with implementation? How can communities enhance economic opportunities while improving water systems? What resources do communities need to achieve protection of water at its source rather than installation of treatment?”

‘Any More Money’

The waters working group approved the charge unanimously and, when completed, will present its findings to the full LGAC. According to the charge, the LGAC is then slated to hold a teleconference to deliberate in a public meeting the waters workgroup’s final recommendations for the first phase of the plan. In October, it will begin to deliberate on Phase II, with a final report to be submitted to EPA in time for its anticipated completion of the National Action Plan for Drinking Water by early 2017.

Though the waters group unanimously approved the draft charge, some members suggested that when deliberations begin, the group should seek information from school districts, due to the lack of requirements in the current LCR for schools to test for lead at the tap and increased prevalence of lead contamination in many public schools.

Another member recommended an “urban communities” subcommittee be formed to provide input on EPA’s National Action Plan, arguing that the charge — and the waters working group — have typically focused their environmental justice discussions on smaller systems. In the charge, EPA asks the group to “identify ways in which federal, state, tribal and local governments, and utilities can work together to ensure that drinking water infrastructure challenges of low-income environmental justice communities and small systems are being appropriately prioritized and addressed.”

“I’m not trying to take anything away — they have different issues than we do — but if you want to talk about a huge impact on public health, you can’t assume larger communities have any more money than smaller communities,” said Victoria Reinhardt, an LGAC member and county commissioner from Minnesota. — Amanda Palleschi (apalleschi@ipwnew.com)”

 

It’s a pleasure to carry your message of soil and water conservation to the policy makers in Washington, and an honor to represent your interests to the government policy decision makers. If you have any questions or need additional details, just ask.

 

Jeffrey Tiberi

Policy Director, Montana Association of Conservation Districts

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