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Cochran: Mississippi Water Quality Needs Addressed in Senate Appropriations Bill

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran
U.S. Senator Thad Cochran

U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today reported that Mississippi should benefit from legislation that would focus Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions on assisting state and local agencies with environmental projects rather than writing costly new regulations.

Cochran on Thursday led Senate Appropriations Committee approval of the FY2017 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, which funds the EPA, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service and numerous federal lands management agencies.

“This bill makes responsible recommendations on where to invest taxpayer funds for stewardship of federal lands and private landowners. It improves environmental policy by emphasizing infrastructure improvements over new EPA regulations,” Cochran said. “For Mississippi, the bill protects important water quality and infrastructure programs that the administration sought to cut or eliminate.”

The Senate bill reduces certain EPA regulatory accounts and increases capitalization grant funding for state revolving funds that help states and municipalities meet water and wastewater infrastructure needs. The President’s budget request sought to cut this funding. The bill also increases funding for the EPA Nonpoint Source Section 319 Grants program, which enables agricultural states to provide much-needed water quality projects.

Cochran also worked to secure $2.0 million for continued U.S. Geological Survey groundwater resource studies to assess declining aquifers in regions within the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain that are experiencing variability in groundwater systems. These resources will help address significant aquifer declines in the Mississippi Delta

Important to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the committee rejected the administration’s proposal to divert outer continental shelf oil and gas revenues from Gulf of Mexico coastal communities. The proposal is in direct contradiction to current law, Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (GOMESA). These royalty revenues are currently used for coastal conservation, restoration, and hurricane protection.

The Senate bill also rejects the administration’s budget request to eliminate the Beach Monitoring Grant program and provides $9.5 million to support federal, state and local collaborations to ensure that recreational waters are safe for swimming.

The bill provides $11 million for the EPA Gulf of Mexico Geographic Program, an increase of $6.5 million over the FY2016 enacted level. This funding will allow the EPA to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state, local and private parties to leverage resources toward conservation projects on working lands within the Gulf region and Mississippi River Basin.

Overall, the Senate FY2017 Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill totals $125 million less than the FY2016 enacted level. The bill is now available for consideration by the Senate.

Items of interest to Mississippi in the Senate FY2017 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Bill:

U.S. Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory – $27 million, the same as the FY2016 enacted level, to advance ongoing work and collaborative partnerships to optimize research for the commercialization of high-value biomass while helping eliminate hazardous fuels in national forests.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – The bill reduces EPA funding by $32 million from the FY2016 enacted level. It focuses funding on returning the agency to its core mission of environmental cleanup instead of writing costly rules that harm the economy. The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds receive more than $2.37 billion, an increase of $113 million over the FY2016 enacted level and $370 million above the administration’s request. Additionally, the Water Infrastructure Finance Act program is funded at $30 million, which will enable hundreds of millions in loans to address water infrastructure challenges.

The bill does the following to stop EPA executive overreach:
Prohibits the EPA Waters of the United States rule
Prohibits the EPA from requiring duplicative financial surety rules on the mining industry
Continues to prohibit the EPA from regulating certain types of ammunition and fishing tackle

EPA Nonpoint Source (Sec. 319) Grant Program – $185.0 million, $20 million above FY2016 enacted level, to fund this grant program. The bill directs the EPA to reevaluate the allocation formula to ensure that resources are being in spent in areas with the most pressing need. Grants under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act are provided to states to help implement EPA-approved Nonpoint Source Management programs designed to reduce sediment runoff and improve water quality.

EPA Technical Assistance Programs – $15 million, not included in the budget request, to support grant awards to qualified not-for-profit organizations for the sole purpose of providing on-site training and technical assistance for water systems in rural or urban communities. Small and rural communities in Mississippi rely on local, on-site technical assistance and training to comply with federal regulations, avoid EPA fines, and operate water and wastewater systems effectively.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – $1.49 billion for the FWS, which is $11.9 million below the FY2016 enacted level. Important program increases include funding for the State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), and funding to support FWS implementation of the RESTORE Act in Gulf Coast States. The bill also provides funding to maintain continued operation of fish hatcheries.

National Park Service (NPS) – $2.74 billion for the NPS, an increase of $68 million above the FY2016 enacted level. This includes important increases for construction backlog, maintenance, and new park units established under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, including Cochran’s legislative efforts to expand the Vicksburg National Military Park (http://1.usa.gov/12HSoZ3).

U.S. Geological Survey Groundwater Resource Study – $2 million is provided for the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct enhanced groundwater resource studies to assess declining aquifers in regions within the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain that are experiencing variability in groundwater systems. These resources will help address significant aquifer declines in the Mississippi Delta as a result of agriculture irrigation.

Heritage Partnership Program – $19 million for this NPS program. Mississippi has three National Heritage Areas: Mississippi Hills, Mississippi Gulf Coast, and Mississippi Delta.

Civil Rights Movement – $10 million within the NPS Historic Preservation Fund to document, interpret, and preserve the sites and stories associated with the Civil Rights Movement.

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