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TESTIMONY: WGA advocates for Fiscal Year 2018 to House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies

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United States House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Energy, Water Development, and Related Agencies

Written Testimony of James D. Ogsbury, Executive Director
Western Governors' Association
May 3, 2017

Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, the Western Governors' Association (WGA) appreciates the opportunity to provide written testimony on the appropriations and activities of the federal agencies under the Subcommitte’s jurisdiction.  WGA is an independent, non-partisan organization representing the Governors of 19 Western states and 3 U.S.-flag islands. The Association is an instrument of the Governors for bipartisan policy development, information-sharing and collective action on issues of critical importance to the western United States.

The agencies within the Subcommittee’s jurisdiction wield significant influence over the American West and its development of energy and water resources.  Western Governors recognize the importance of a close and productive working relationship between states and the federal government and understand that more effective cooperation depends on the treatment of states as full and equal partners with the federal government.  The promotion of a greater partnership between states and the federal government is central to the mission of WGA and is reflected in our Policy Resolution 2017-01, Building a Stronger State-Federal Relationship, which I commend to your attention.

States possess the primary legal authority for the allocation, management, protection, and development of water resources within their respective borders.  Congress and the federal judiciary have consistently and expressly recognized, and deferred to, this state authority.  Federal policy must respect and preserve states’ authority to manage water, as well as recognize state law and the financial, environmental and social values of water resources to citizens of the western states.

The following recommendations are intended to ensure that taxpayers realize a meaningful return on the investment of limited discretionary resources.  This goal will be more readily achieved to the extent that federal agencies better leverage state authority, resources and expertise.

State Authority Over Groundwater:  States have exclusive authority over groundwater located within their borders and are primarily responsible for protecting, managing, and otherwise controlling the resource.  WGA encourages the Subcommittee not to permit the use of appropriated funds for any activity that would, or has the potential to, usurp states’ authority over groundwater resources.  Federal agencies should work with the states to address their groundwater-related needs and concerns.

Water Supply Rule:  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) proposed Water Supply Rule concerning surplus waters within Missouri River Basin impoundments would infringe upon states’ inherent primary authority over water resources, particularly over the natural flows within traditionally navigable waterways falling under state jurisdiction.  The administration of water supply contracts by the Corps should not have any negative effect on states’ primary authority over the management, allocation, planning, and protection of water resources within their boundaries.  This authority over water extends to all naturally-occurring waters, including those impounded in Corps reservoirs.  The rights of states to access and appropriate such waters must not be precluded by any federal regulation, including the Corps’ proposed Rule.  WGA requests that the Subcommittee withhold funding to implement the proposed Water Supply Rule as it applies to any federal actions that may infringe upon states’ historic authority over natural flows within the Missouri River Basin.

Water Data:  Western States need reliable water resource information on the status, trends, and projections of water availability.  Accordingly, Western Governors support federal data collection, monitoring, and drought information programs, as well as enhanced coordination of federal drought-related activities across agencies.

Funding Water Infrastructure:  Aging infrastructure for existing water, wastewater and hydropower facilities and the need for additional water projects are becoming increasingly urgent considerations.  Infrastructure investments are essential to our nation’s continued economic prosperity, electric generation capacity and environmental protection, and they assist states in meeting federally-mandated environmental standards.

The Subcommittee should fully utilize the receipts accruing to the Reclamation Fund for their intended purpose for the conservation, development and use of resources to meet western water-related needs.  Western Governors support the construction of Congressionally-authorized Bureau of Reclamation rural water projects and facilities that are part of Congressionally-authorized Indian water rights settlements.

The Subcommittee should also consider facilitating greater investment in water infrastructure, utilizing such tools as loan guarantees, revolving funds, infrastructure banks and water trust funds.  Capital budgeting and asset management principles should be used to determine funding priorities based on long-term sustainability and not annual incremental spending choices.  These investments in infrastruture should be accompanied by dedicated sources of funding with appropriate financing, cost-sharing, pricing and cost recovery policies.

The Subcommittee should take steps to ensure that infrastructure planning and permitting guidelines, rules and regulations are coordinated, streamlined and sufficiently flexible to: 1) allow for timely decision-making in the design, financing and construction of needed infrastructure; 2) account for regional differences; 3) balance economic and environmental considerations; and 4) minimize the cost of compliance.

Waste Isolation Pilot Project:  Continued funding for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Transportation Safety Program is essential to the expeditious cleanup and disposal of transuranic (TRU) waste from U.S. nuclear weapons complex facilities located in several western states, including Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Hanford Site in Washington.  The Department of Energy must continue to provide sufficient and timely in-kind, financial, technical and other appropriate assistance to any state or Indian tribe through whose jurisdiction TRU waste will be transported.  This assistance is integral to planning, developing and implementing the WIPP Transportation Safety Program.  The safe and uneventful transportation of TRU waste through the WIPP Transportation Safety Program continues to be a priority of Western Governors, and we encourage the Subcommittee to provide adequate funding to ensure that this important work continues.

Western Governors and federal agencies deal with a complex web of interrelated energy and water resource issues.  It is an enormous challenge to judiciously balance competing needs in this environment, and Western Governors appreciate the difficulty of the decisions this Subcommittee must make.  The foregoing recommendations are offered in a spirit of cooperation and respect, and WGA is prepared to assist you as you discharge these critical and challenging responsibilities.

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