2020 Election Overview While the U.S. presidential election may not be determined for some time after yesterday’s elections, we do have a better picture of what the next session of Congress will look like when it convenes in January. In the Senate While the Republicans appear on track to keep control of the Senate, that verdict is not official yet, so we’ll assume it’s an open question today. Though we may not know which party will be controlling that body, we can list the top party members in each committee and subcommittee. If Republicans keep control, their top members on each committee will naturally remain or become the chairs. If the Democrats take the Senate, their top members will be chairs. The leader of the minority party on a committee or subcommittee is called the ranking member. Bear in mind that there could be some surprises in the coming weeks as certain members covet leadership spots on other committees. Some shuffling occurs after every election. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Indeed, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works will likely have a notable leadership change in the next Congress regardless. This committee has jurisdiction over drinking water and wastewater policies. The current chair, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., is expected to give up that leadership position to take the helm or ranking member post of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, a natural fit for a senator from Wyoming. The current chair there, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is term-limited under party rules. The top Republican on Environment and Public Works will likely be Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia who handily won re-election Tuesday. We expect to see Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware remain the top Democrat on that committee, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois will likely remain top Democrat of the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, the subcommittee with more direct jurisdiction over municipal water issues. Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota will also likely remain as top Republican on that subcommittee. Senate Appropriations On the Senate Committee on Appropriations, we do not expect to see major changes. Appropriations committees provide funding for federal programs after other committees authorize or reauthorize programs. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama will likely remain the top Republican and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont will probably be the top Democrat. The Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies determines funding levels for EPA programs. The new top Republican may be Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. The current chair, Murkowski, is also term limited in that position. House Energy and Commerce Committee Over in the House of Representatives, Democratic control has not really been in question, but some leadership positions related to drinking water will change on the Republican side. House Democrats will not formally name chairs until the new Congress convenes in January, but not much change is expected on that side of the aisle. We expect to see Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey return as chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the committee with jurisdiction over drinking water. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, top Republican on Energy and Commerce, is retiring at the end of this Congress. Taking his place on the panel may be Reps. Michael Burgess of Texas, or Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington. The Subcommittee on Environment and Climate has direct jurisdiction over drinking water, and Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., will likely remain chair. The current ranking Republican is Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, who is also retiring. The ranking Republican could be either Rodgers or Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia. House Appropriations Leadership of the House Committee on Appropriations is still not clear on the Democratic side. Current chair, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., is retiring. There is a three-way contest for that seat among Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. Votes are still being counted in DeLauro’s race. On the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, we expect to see Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., return as chair and Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, return as ranking member. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has jurisdiction over wastewater issues in the House. Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon was in a tough re-election race this year, but did win, and he will likely keep that committee leadership position. Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri won re-election and will likely remain ranking Republican on the committee. Water Policy Trends The easy assumption is that if Democrats control Congress, there will be more regulations headed to the water sector, but more infrastructure spending, and if the Republicans win, fewer regulations and less spending on infrastructure. However, the differences between the two parties appears to be in degrees of regulation sought, and the amount of infrastructure spending that would be sought by each party may not be far apart. Regarding regulations, there are leading Republicans with PFAS and lead concerns in their states or districts and who have voiced support for stricter regulation of these substances. Regarding infrastructure spending and Republicans, there will likely be a tug-of-war between fiscal conservatives in the party and those who see such spending as a way to help the country recover economically. A number of Democratic leaders in Congress do want to see EPA take a tougher stance on drinking water regulation, and Democrats have indeed been more generous in providing infrastructure funding in the past. Democrats have introduced bills in this Congress to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act to speed up the regulatory determination process. This is mainly a prelude to actions coming in the 117th Congress. Until that act is amended, regulatory processes will continue to follow the current methodical, deliberative path. How far changes to the Safe Drinking Water go will depend on whether such legislation can make it through the Senate and be signed into law by the president. Coronavirus relief will be another big issue facing the next Congress. In May, the Democratically controlled House passed H.R. 6800, known as the HEROES Act. It contained $1.5 billion to help low-income customers pay their water and wastewater bills, channeled through utilities. Tied to that would be a moratorium on disconnections of customers for non-payment. A big question lingering over that is the length of time such a moratorium would be in place. The Republican-controlled Senate never took up the bill. However, there is interest on both sides of the aisle in some form of relief for low-income customers. AWWA and the other major water organizations have been advocating for that and for assistance to water utilities that have suffered significant revenue losses. A part of coronavirus relief – whether in a coronavirus bill or stand-alone legislation – is economic recovery and job creation. However control of Congress shakes out, we expect some increase in infrastructure spending. In this session of Congress, we have seen some new grant programs enacted and more proposed for addressing lead and PFAS in drinking water, assisting economically distressed communities and the like. The approach taken by Republicans in Congress and the White House has largely been to put some more money into existing programs, such as the state revolving loan program and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. The tax code may get another look no matter who controls Congress and the White House. AWWA and organizations representing local governments will be vigilant in protecting tax-exempt municipal bonds. They have been on the table in past rewrites of the tax code. We will continue efforts to regain tax advantages that local governments used to have under advanced refunding of bonds. What will be interesting to see is where water falls in the macro issues Congress considers. Where will water be in Democratic priorities and approaches to them in pandemic relief, health care, climate change, jobs or firming up other environmental regulation? Where will water fall in Republican priorities and approaches to economic recovery, health care and regulations? We’ll keep you updated on such developments as the final outcomes of the 2020 elections become known.