In Funding, Urgent Issues, Water law, Water policy

2019 Water Policy Review: Looking Back and What Lies Ahead

Many people, myself included, like to start the new year off by evaluating the previous year and setting goals for the next. When I was asked to write a 2019 year-in-review summary of water policy wins and losses, I’ll admit I thought it was going to be a grim undertaking. As I look closer, there’s no denying 2019 saw blow after blow to our clean water protections, but I also see where the power of this network made a big difference and where there are even more opportunities to flex that power in 2020.

When it comes to water policy, 2019 was full of setbacks. After three years of the Trump presidency, it should come as no surprise that the Administration, including EPA, has continued to call for drastically reduced funding for environmental programs and significant rollbacks to many protections for our waters.

However, there are important WINS to celebrate:

  • Federal budget – The drastic funding cuts the Administration proposed did not materialize. You likely remember that 2019 began with a government shutdown and no budget for 2019. When the 2019 budget was finally agreed to early last year, major cuts to environmental programs were avoided. Late in 2019, Congress also adopted a budget for 2020, which President Trump signed into law, avoiding another shutdown and funding key water programs, including:
    • $2.8 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds
    • $495 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (a 17-year high!)
    • $9 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (a $208 million increase!)
    • Other cuts the administration proposed were avoided
  • Protecting Public Lands and Waterways – In March, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, the National Resources Management Act. The Act included permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and designated 225 miles of rivers in Massachusetts and Connecticut and 280 miles of river in Oregon as wild, scenic, or recreational, among other important wins for rivers and nature.
  • Environmental Justice – Congress also took several steps towards ensuring more environmental justice and equity. A number of Senators formed the Environmental Justice Caucus. House members are drafting the Environmental Justice for All Act via an innovative process aimed making the bill community-led and community-driven. Also introduced were the Low-Income Water Customer Assistance Programs Act of 2019 and the Green New Deal.

Now for the LOSSES. The Administration went full force on its agenda to roll back key water protections, including proposals to:

Congress also made some progress, but not enough, to limit the public’s exposure to a group of toxic chemicals known as PFAS. While Congress did pass a mandate for the Pentagon to stop using firefighting foams that contain PFAS by mid-2024, it failed to get other important, needed protections into place to limit people’s exposure to PFAS.

Looking ahead, 2020 is a pivotal election year. As both the high- and low-lights clearly demonstrate, who we elect to represent us – and what they stand for and against – could be the most fundamental factor that determines how our waters will be protected. We hope you’ll join with us to set some New Year’s goals centered around engaging candidates and your networks to stand up for clean water, justice, and equity during the election. Stay tuned for future blog posts where we’ll outline how you, and your organization, can engage in the 2020 elections to help ensure those who are elected come November will protect our waters.

All of us here at River Network wish you a very happy New Year. We are excited to work alongside you in 2020 to continue to advance clean water protections!

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