Changes in Congress Affect California Water Interests

Best Best & Krieger LLP

Capitol Building

Last week’s Midterm elections shifted the political landscape toward the Republicans as they captured the majority in the Senate and increased their votes in the House. The most visible consequence in California will be that its two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, will be a part of the minority and will lose their respective Committee and Subcommittee chairmanships. A major impact on California as a result of the changed Senate control is Boxer not being chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for the Clean Water Act, Drinking Water Act and the Water Resources Reform & Development Act, among others. The new EPW chairman is likely to be Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has publicly stated his intentions to pare back environmental regulations. Whether he is able to do this or not remains to be seen.

The other important impact for California is in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where Feinstein previously chaired the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, which handles funding for the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers. This position will be taken by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a moderate.

Another notable appropriations change is on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, on which Feinstein serves. The chairmanship there will likely switch from Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island to Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Murkowski is also poised to become chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming will likely become chair of the Water and Power Subcommittee. The chair of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee is also likely to shift from Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland to Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas. The changing dynamics within the Senate are important as the Republicans have not held the majority since the 109th Congress nearly a decade ago, and many of the senators will assume different roles as they transition into, or out of, the majority.

In the House, where the Republicans have increased the majority, the changes are less profound. In the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the ranking Democrat, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, was defeated. That position will be assumed by Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon. In the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Ken Calvert of Corona, Calif. will continue to chair the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. He will also remain on the Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee. The House Natural Resources Committee, as a result of Doc Hastings retirement, will have a new chairman – Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah. Lastly, California may lose a member on the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power, as Rep. Jim Costa awaits the results in California’s 16th District, where the race is too close to call.

While the changes in the House are certainly less prominent than those of the Senate, the Republicans are in a position to submit legislation to the President that was not possible in the 113th Congress. While the President is likely to utilize veto authority on certain policies that reach his desk, it is important to note that Congress does not hold a strong enough majority to thwart presidential vetoes.

Our clients depend on the Congress, acting through the Executive Branch, for funding for water treatment, water supply, flood control, water recycling and other matters.  They are also subject on a daily basis to regulatory and enforcement actions implemented by the Executive Branch and the State but based on laws enacted by the Congress.  These changes in the make-up of the Congress will ripple through the water establishment and eventually affect the day-to-day activities of local agencies  and their customers.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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