New session of U.S. Congress convenes A new session of the U.S. Congress convened in Washington, D.C., this week, but a clear vision of what will happen in this two-year session remains elusive. The November elections gave the Republican Party control over the U.S. House of Representatives with a slim 222-212 majority. This week, the House has been grappling with the choice of a new Speaker. Whoever wins that post will likely find leading the House a wild tiger to ride. Without a House Speaker in place, House members cannot be sworn into office. Therefore, committee chairs cannot be formally appointed, committee assignments cannot be made, the rules of the House cannot be set, and legislation cannot be considered. Despite the turmoil over top House leadership, we have a good idea who eventually will be leading the House Committee on Energy and Commerce – the panel with jurisdiction over drinking water. That will be Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers , R-Wash. Rep. Frank Pallone , D-N.J., will move from the chair’s position to become ranking Democrat. Some of the key committee staff AWWA has worked with in the past will remain as well. We don’t yet have a clear picture of who will lead the subcommittee with the most direct jurisdiction over drinking water, the Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change. Don’t be surprised if “climate change” is stripped from that panel’s title. U.S. Rep. Sam Graves , R-Mo., is expected to become chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the panel with jurisdiction over wastewater. The previous top Democrat – Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. – retired from Congress. The Democratic caucus named Rep. Rick Larsen , D-Wash., its ranking member on that committee last month. Democrats kept control of the U.S. Senate in the November elections, and we don’t expect major changes in leadership there. U.S. Sen. Tom Carper , D-Del., will remain as chair of the Committee on Environment and Public Works , and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito , R-W.Va., returns as ranking Republican. We don’t expect major water initiatives coming from Capitol Hill in this 118th session of Congress, but AWWA has issues it plans to advance on behalf of the water sector: An exemption from Superfund liability for water utilities in the event of contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS; Effective cybersecurity measures for the water sector; Enhancements to conservation programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture affecting source waters; and Efficient and timely implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act . WOTUS – third time the charm? Just before the New Year’s holiday weekend began, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a pre-publication copy of its latest rule defining “Waters of the United States” or WOTUS. These are the waters and wetlands subject to jurisdiction under the federal Clean Water Act. This final rule replaces the Trump administration rule , which itself replaced the Obama administration rule . The agency casts this latest rule as a “back to the future” regulation, resting on two tests outlined by the U.S. Supreme Court ( U.S. v Riverside Bayview Homes , Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , and Rapanos, v U.S. ) prior to the Obama administration’s rulemaking. This new rule will be effective 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register . EPA also released a number of related supporting documents, including its responses to comments received as part of the rulemaking. Beyond the initial framing of the rule, EPA did not address concerns expressed by AWWA and others that the agency should more clearly exclude water supply and water reuse-related facilities. The U.S. Department of Justice is making the Supreme Court aware of the rulemaking’s logic and support documents as EPA attempts to bolster its arguments in Sackett v EPA . AWWA joined an amicus brief to the court in this case that argued for a definition of WOTUS as implemented before the Obama-era rule. This rulemaking will not foreclose the Supreme Court decision in Sackett. Who and how many organizations decide to challenge this rule will not be apparent until 45 days after the effective date of the rule. EPA has previously signaled its intent to further revise the definition of WOTUS after completing this action (likely in late 2023) but has given little indication of further direction other than its desire to create a more “durable” definition. IRIS toxicological reviews for PFAS move forward EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program is currently moving forward with several toxicological reviews for several PFAS. On Dec. 22, the IRIS program released a final review for perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA) and related salts , retaining the same oral reference dose (RfD) as the 2021 draft review. The RfD is 0.001 mg/kg-d, based on increased hepatocellular hypertrophy (liver) and decreased total T4 (thyroid). As a point of comparison, IRIS’s last PFAS oral RfD based on liver toxicity was for GenX. GenX is 333 times more toxic than PFBA. EPA did not find adequate information to assess carcinogenic potential for oral or inhalation exposure to PFBA. According to the current program outlook , draft toxicological reviews for perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS) are due to be published for public comment this year; final reviews for PFDA, PFNA, PFHxS, and perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) are expected by the end of the year. Public release of PFAS analytic tools On Jan. 5, EPA announced the public release of a new interactive application called the “ PFAS Analytic Tools .” The application brings together national datasets from different EPA sources, such as drinking water monitoring and manufacturing reports, into a searchable, map-themed webpage that allows the use of filters. EPA will be holding a public webinar on Tuesday, Jan. 10, from 1-2 p.m. EDT. During this webinar, we will provide an introduction and instructions on how to use the PFAS Analytic Tools. Register here to save your spot. Scrutiny increases on environmental justice A joint letter from Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council, Conservation Law Foundation and several other organizations urges federal agencies implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to 'ensure that the recipients of federal funds comply with federal civil rights protections, in particular Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 .” The Biden Administration established the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) two years ago under executive order to increase federal efforts to address environmental injustice. Implementation of the IIJA and the Inflation Reduction Act are key aspects of that effort now. There is existing EPA practice with respect to financial aid and Title VI. Early in January 2022 , Providence Water’s lead service line replacement program became the target of a Title VI complaint, illustrating how water systems may be impacted by an emphasis on Title VI application to water infrastructure improvements. Webinar to focus on wastewater, emerging contaminants EPA will host a webinar at 1-2:30 p.m. EDT on Jan. 18 to provide an overview of how to use money from the wastewater state revolving loan fund program to address emerging contaminants. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 provided $1 billion over five years to address such contaminants in wastewater. Registration is available online .