House Vote Possible This Summer on Four Environment Bills: Shimkus

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By Rachel Leven

The House could pass four major environmental bills before Congress’s August recess, including one delaying implementation of 2015 ozone standards, a key House Republican told Bloomberg BNA.

Three bills reauthorizing brownfields, drinking water and nuclear waste law could then be attached to any Senate-passed infrastructure bill to reach the president’s desk, said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment. Meanwhile, exploration of other Clean Air Act issues could begin as soon as September, he said.

A “draw [to Republicans] on these authorization bills is the fact that they’re reauthorizations,” Shimkus said in a June 12 interview. “We have a big debate in our conference—we’ve had it the last three Congresses—about spending money on things that aren’t authorized or reauthorized. So the leadership really wants us to be looking at these programs—what works, what doesn’t work—and to reauthorize the programs.”

Shimkus’ comments offer a roadmap for what comes next for the environment in the House following early Republican efforts to roll back major environmental rules, including the stream protection rule. The House is scheduled to start its August recess July 29 and return Sept. 5.

June 15 Markup

Shimkus’ subcommittee will hold a markup June 15 on three environmental bills. Those include:

  •  The Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2017 ( H.R. 806, S. 263) introduced by Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) that would delay for eight years implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 ozone standards;
  • legislation that has not yet been introduced to reauthorize the EPA’s brownfields program that allocates federal grants for developers and others to clean up and redevelop contaminated sites; and
  •  another bill that has not yet been introduced to reauthorize the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that would restart work on Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository for spent fuel from the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants.
A fourth not-yet-introduced bill that would reauthorize the federal drinking water program under the Safe Drinking Water Act is not a part of this markup, a spokesman for Shimkus told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

On the reauthorization bills in general, including the drinking water bill, Shimkus said he hopes to strike compromises with Democrats while still working within budgetary guidelines. There won’t likely “be much agreement” on the ozone legislation across the aisle, but the other bills, especially on brownfields, are programs broadly supported in Congress, he said.

“We’re in the majority, so we have the votes,” Shimkus said of the House. “But the way I’ve operated the last six, eight years is that you really want to make these ones bills where both people are somewhat pleased as you move through the process.”

Timeline of Bills

The bills would next move to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for review. Shimkus said he hopes all four bills, including the drinking water efforts, will pass the full House before the August recess.

A spokesman for the full committee didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s question on how quickly it plans to take up these bills after the markup or whether an August timeline is in the cards.

Should the bills make it through the full committee, the three reauthorizations could find a home for passage in an ever-growing hypothetical Senate infrastructure package, Shimkus said.

“You can easily make the argument that these are all infrastructure issues,” he said.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), didn’t directly address Bloomberg BNA’s question regarding whether all of these issues—brownfields, nuclear waste and drinking water—could make it into an infrastructure package.

“Modernizing America’s roads, bridges, and water systems is a priority for Chairman Barrasso and the focus of the committee’s infrastructure work,” Mike Danylak, a spokesman for the committee majority, responded to Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail. He didn’t respond to a request for clarification.

For the ozone bill, the Senate has already taken an interest in the issue. Environment and Public Works held a hearing on an identical bill introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) May 23.

Rest of the Clean Air Act

Shimkus’ subcommittee hasn’t addressed several other issues under its newest area of jurisdiction, including the Clean Air Act. The issue proved difficult for the last Congress to resolve, with many Republicans calling for a major revamp of the law and redefined jurisdiction.

But—other than ozone—these issues haven’t been on the top of Shimkus’s agenda. Following recess, more of these issues—from whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant to a vetting of the economic dislocation effects of EPA air rules—could see his subcommittee’s spotlight, the chairman said.

For now, there isn’t any “major push” to act legislatively on these issues, Shimkus said. Similarly, there isn’t much urgency to insert Congress into the review of the Clean Power Plan rule because the Trump administration is “weighing in on it,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rachel Leven in Washington at rleven@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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