Washington Waves: April 9, 2018

Washington, D.C.—Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has issued a memo taking back authority previously granted regional administrators on actions such as reviewing and replacing the controversial Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.

Pruitt specifically cited EPA’s action on WOTUS as the reason he issued the memo to ensure consistency and certainty under the Clean Water Act.

“With this revised delegation, authority previously delegated to regional administrators to make final determinations of geographic jurisdiction shall be retained by the administrator,” states the memo on “Section 404 Dredged and Fill Material Permitting,” which Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) posted on its website.

“As part of effectuating this revision, I ask that you involve the administrator’s office early on in the process of developing geographic determinations.”

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A major development on the WOTUS front has been expected as early as this month.

In a February appearance before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Pruitt told senators he hoped to roll out a proposed WOTUS substitute in April or May.

It was unclear whether that timetable still holds.

In a recent roundtable with regional reporters, Pruitt said the agency had received a million public comments on its WOTUS effort and was obligated to go through all of them.

Following criticism from PEER, which views the memo as a bid to strip power from regional offices, an EPA spokesperson issued a statement echoing Pruitt’s goal of ensuring consistency and uniformity on matters involving jurisdictional determinations that raise significant issues or technical difficulties.

Liz Bowman also cited EPA’s ongoing effort on WOTUS, offering assurances regional offices will not be shut out.

“Regions will absolutely be involved in the process and work closely with the administrator’s office when doing the work to assess jurisdiction for very select, and often rare, cases,” Bowman said.

In its press release, PEER accused Pruitt of hijacking key water protections.

“Pruitt has assumed personal control over a range of key decisions determining preservation of streams, ponds and wetlands,” PEER stated, adding the change eliminates the role of locally based EPA scientists and specialists in reviewing projects, imposes a one-size-fits-all scenario that does not recognize regional differences and removes any role for EPA regional offices in vetoing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge and fill permits.

Kyla Bennett, PEER’s New England director, said Pruitt’s memo subjects clean water safeguards “to filtration through one politician’s hands.”

“Every corporation that wants a pass on Clean Water Act compliance is invited to privately meet with the most user friendly EPA administrator in history,” Bennett said.

Infrastructure Effort

President Trump’s recent speech on infrastructure in Ohio, highly touted by the White House beforehand, appears to have missed its mark, and the reported departure of yet another key aide on that effort led to even more speculation about the $1.5-trillion initiative’s future.

D.J. Gribbin has played a major role in the entire infrastructure effort, which dates back to a key campaign promise by builder-turned-candidate Trump.

Gribbin’s reported exit from the White House follows the departure earlier of Gary Cohn, who also had been a key player on infrastructure as a top economic adviser to the president.

“The departure of the special assistant to the president for infrastructure does not bode well for the outlook of a comprehensive infrastructure bill,” said Michael Toohey, Waterways Council Inc. president and CEO.

Toohey also echoed concerns of lawmakers about the status of the effort in Congress.

“Congress seems very troubled by the lack of funding, on a bipartisan basis, for the infrastructure program and little consensus on raising the motor fuels tax,” he said.

Trump’s speech in Ohio seems to have done little, if anything, to help, especially when it comes to the $200 billion in so-called seed money he wants Congress to provide as a way to encourage local communities, states and the private sector to pony up at least another $1.3 trillion.

Not only was it wide-ranging, with Trump veering from topics ranging from U.S. policy in the Middle East to the huge ratings of the rebooted version of TV’s “Roseanne,” but the speech left several key issues up in the air.

“We probably have to wait until after the election,” Trump said at one point, blaming a lack of bipartisanship.

Later, the president suggested: “It can be passed in one bill or in a series of measures.”

Having to get a supermajority vote—which is still needed to pass most significant legislation in the Senate—on a series of bills instead of one large package could make success more elusive.

Boating Safety Committee

The National Boating Safety Advisory Council and its subcommittees are scheduled to meet in May in Portland, Ore.

According to the schedule posted by the U.S. Coast Guard, the council will meet at 12:30 p.m. on May 8 and again at 8:30 a.m. on May 10; the Boats and Associated Equipment, Prevention through People and Recreational Boating Safety Strategic Planning subcommittees will meet on May 9 at 8:30 a.m., 10:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. respectively.

All meetings will be held in the Broadway Room, Hilton Portland Downtown, 921 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, Ore. 97204.

For additional information, contact Jeff Ludwig at 202-372-1061.

CTAC Nominations Sought

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the Chemical Transportation Advisory Committee.

Completed applications should reach the Coast Guard by May 29.

The Coast Guard will consider applications for eight positions set to become vacant on September 16. Membership categories include chemical manufacturing, marine handling or transportation of chemicals, vessel design and construction, marine safety or security and marine environmental protection.

For additional information, contact Lt. Jake Lobb at 202 372–1428.

Inflation Adjustment

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is making the 2018 annual inflation adjustment to its civil monetary penalties for the Coast Guard and other federal agencies as required by a 2015 law (The Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Improvements Act of 2015).

With the rule taking effect on April 2, the new penalties will be assessed after that date on violations that occurred after November 2, 2015.

Specific violations and penalties are outlined in the notice published in the April 2 Federal Register.

For additional information, contact Megan Westmoreland at 202–447–4384.

Maritime Security Committee

The U.S. Coast Guard is seeking applications for membership on the National Maritime Security Advisory Committee.

Completed applications should reach the Guard by May 3.

Applications will be considered for 16 positions scheduled to become vacant on June 1 and December 31, 2018.

For additional information, contact Ryan Owens at 202-372-1108.

CBP Commissioner

In a 77–19 vote, the U.S. Senate confirmed Kevin McAleenan of Hawaii as commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

McAleenan, who had been serving as acting CBP commissioner since January 2017, previously served as deputy commissioner, acting assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of Field Operations and area port director of Los Angeles International Airport.