By Scott Berry, Director of Policy and Government Affairs, US Water Alliance

January 27, 2021

Washington looks very different at the end of January than it did at the end of 2020. There is much still to be accomplished, but this time of transition provides a unique opportunity to advance One Water policies. With a pair of wins in Georgia, Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats. The Senate is now divided 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. This power change has myriad impacts on future legislation and rulemaking under the new Biden Administration.
With Democrats at the helm of the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is now Senate Majority Leader and holds the power to decide what bills come to the Senate floor. Additionally, the Senate’s 24 committees, where the majority of legislation is crafted, are now under new leadership. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the new chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) is the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. This new leadership bodes well for the water sector. Senator Manchin has worked across the aisle with fellow West Virginian Senator Shelley Moore Capito to secure funding for water protection programs and for clean drinking water projects and Senator Carper was a co-sponsor of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (S.3591) as well as the Drinking Water Act of 2020 (S.3590). One Water allies in key committees is a significant bright spot as the Alliance looks towards legislative changes in 2021 and beyond.
With Democrats holding on to their majority in the House last November, this is the first time in 11 years that Democrats hold the Presidency and both chambers of Congress (the last time being the first two years of the Obama administration). And President Biden’s first days in office have already signaled a significant departure from the last four years. One of President Biden’s key day-one actions, the Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis, seeks to undo environmental rollbacks from the Trump Administration. The Biden Administration has also issued a Regulatory Freeze so that his appointees have the opportunity to review any new or pending rules.
Even before assuming office, then President-Elect Biden released his $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, the American Rescue Plan. The plan would provide $25 billion in rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households, and an addition $5 billion would be set aside to help renters pay their utility bills. This is in addition to the $638 million that was set aside for a  low-income water utility bill assistance program as a part of last month’s end of year appropriations package. President Biden has indicated that COVID relief is his top legislative priority, and it seems likely that any bill would encompass financial assistance for ratepayers. His next move after securing COVID relief is likely to be an infrastructure push in line with his Build Back Better plan. Though the scope of a potential proposal isn’t yet known, we’ll be looking for a possible release next month.
Power also changed hands across federal agencies, as the Biden administration welcomed key members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Agriculture. In an exciting move embracing the One Water movement, the EPA announced the selection of US Water Alliance CEO Radhika Fox as the Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water. A Day-One President Appointee, she will serve as the Acting Assistant Administrator for Water. Fox’s leadership of the Office of Water is yet another indication of how this moment is ripe for transformational change in the water sector. Assistant Administrator Fox is a pioneer in the movement towards One Water policies and is dedicated to addressing the four compounding crises facing the nation—the global pandemic, economic recovery, racial equity, and the climate crisis.
This changing landscape is central to the US Water Alliance’s launch of Recovering Stronger, a two-year initiative dedicated to driving changes in water policy and to fostering alignment at the federal, state, and local level. At the Alliance, we believe times of upheaval can lead to moments of radical change. And with these momentous changes in the Presidency, Congress, and across agencies, we see a critical opportunity to address the structural challenges and social inequities that the pandemic has laid bare. The first major component of the Recovering Stronger Initiative is a forthcoming Federal Blueprint showcasing the water sector’s best legislative, regulatory, and administrative policy ideas.
To celebrate the beginning of the work and the release of the Federal Blueprint, the Alliance is hosting Recovering Stronger: Transforming Water Management in America, a virtual event featuring diverse stakeholders and policymakers working on at the intersection of water and recovery, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE). We hope you’ll join us for this event on February 4th at 1:00 PM ET—registration is free and can be accessed online here. Tune in to learn more about the common ground solutions at the federal level that will contribute to building a stronger, more sustainable future for all.