An Update Of Recent Legislation And Initiatives Coming Out Of Washington, D.C.
Senate Passes Water Resources Development Act
The U.S. Senate passed the 2022 Water Resources Development Act – a bill to provide for improvements to the rivers and harbors of the United States, to provide for the conservation and development of water and related resources, and for other purposes – by a 93-1 vote. The lone nay was Sen. Michael Braun (R-Ind.). The House and Senate must now reconcile the two versions of the legislation that cleared their respective chambers.
“The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022 provides our members with planning certainty and funding for projects over the next two years,” said National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs Michele Stanley. “The critical resources authorized in this legislation will improve ports; develop flood control systems; reinforce shorelines; and maintain waterways for the movement of goods and resources. With the current economic climate, it is essential for all aggregates producers to have this guarantee with planning in order to supply the building materials needed to build these vital water infrastructure projects. NSSGA thanks Chairman Carper (D-Del.), Ranking Member Capito (R-W.Va.), Chairman Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member Cramer (R-N.D.) and all the senators who worked to move WRDA through the Senate. We look forward to Congress finishing its bipartisan work on this important bill.”
Feds Invest More Than $74 Million for Critical Minerals Mapping
The Department of the Interior announced that, thanks to a substantial investment from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, more than $74.6 million will be distributed in 30 states to invest in geoscience data collection, mapping, data preservation and scientific interpretation of areas with potential for critical minerals, under the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, or Earth MRI.
These investments will help improve the understanding of domestic critical mineral resources, a key step in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of the critical minerals that power everything from household appliances and electronics to clean energy technologies like batteries and wind turbines.
Funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will account for $64 million in this effort. This is part of the broader $510.7 million investment in USGS from the law to support scientific innovation.
“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes historic investments to support scientific research, data mapping and preservation,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “In order to make data driven decisions based on the best available science, we need to equip our premier science agencies with the resources they need. The funding we are announcing today and the partnerships it will foster will help us research and preserve vital scientific data.”
Under Earth MRI, USGS has partnered with the Association of American State Geologists and state geological surveys to jointly fund and conduct new geologic mapping and geochemical reconnaissance sampling and preserve existing geologic data and samples.
“These historic investments will modernize our mapping of the United States,” said Sarah Ryker, USGS associate director for energy and mineral resources. “The USGS and the state geological surveys collaborated to prioritize areas where new geoscience data will yield new understanding of the potential for sustainable mineral production and mine waste reprocessing and remediation, along with geothermal resources, groundwater and earthquake hazards.”
“Merging federal resources with local knowledge of the state surveys creates an efficient and thorough venue to quickly further national understanding of the distribution of our resources,” said Erin Campbell, president of the Association of American State Geologists. “We at the state geologic surveys truly value our partnership with the USGS.”
The focus of the Fiscal Year 2022 funding includes improving the nation’s mapping of shallow and deep geology. This will lead to better scientific understanding of critical mineral resources – including minerals still in the ground and those found in mine waste materials. By improving this science, we can better ensure our mining actions in the United States secure the minerals needed for a clean energy revolution while being conducted with strong environmental, sustainability, safety, Tribal consultation and community engagement standards so that the American people can have confidence that the minerals and materials they use are responsibly sourced and our resources are stewarded wisely.
Through the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, geologic mapping will be conducted by state geological surveys. The new maps will refine our understanding of the geologic framework of mineral areas of interest. In addition to helping identify mineral potential, these maps also support decisions about use of land, water, energy and minerals, and the potential impact of geologic hazards on communities.
The National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program partners with Earth MRI to support data preservation. The increased funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will support preservation of physical samples that would be costly or difficult to replace.
The USGS 3D Elevation Program (3DEP) will acquire modern elevation (lidar) data flown by private-sector mapping services contractors to fill data gaps in the nation’s topographic mapping in areas with potential for critical mineral resources. Lidar is a laser-based scanning of terrain to create high-resolution digital elevation models. Lidar helps scientists develop accurate maps that depict the geology exposed at the surface and extrapolate the extent of the rock formations at depth. Lidar data also can help define the location and volume of mine waste materials exposed on the land surface.
The Mineral Resources Program and the state geological surveys will conduct geochemical reconnaissance surveys to provide initial information on under-studied geologic settings, thus helping plan and prioritize future years’ data collection and mapping.
The Mineral Resources Program will also design airborne geophysical surveys that will be flown by private sector airborne geophysical survey contractors in areas with critical mineral potential. Airborne magnetic data indicate the relative amount of magnetic minerals in exposed and deeply buried rocks; airborne radiometric data indicate the relative amounts of potassium, uranium and thorium in exposed rocks and soils.
Airborne electromagnetic surveys provide information on concealed minerals and groundwater resources. This information allows scientists to identify likely locations of rocks and geologic structures (such as faults) associated with critical minerals, geothermal energy resources, groundwater and potential earthquake hazards in the region.
NSSGA Supports Bipartisan House Passage of 2022 WRDA
The House has passed the bipartisan Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022. WRDA 2022 will improve the nation’s water infrastructure by authorizing water resources development projects in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This legislation will strengthen America’s economy through investments in ports, harbors and inland waterways; make communities more resilient in the face of extreme weather and climate change; and protect and restore our ecosystems.
“The Water Resources Development Act of 2022 – the largest and most ambitious WRDA bill to date – demonstrates that when Congress works together, it can pass legislation on a bipartisan basis that benefits communities across the country,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), committee chair. “WRDA 2022 helps provide much needed investment in ports, harbors, and inland waterways – easing supply chain problems – as well as flood mitigation infrastructure, and ecosystem restoration in both urban and rural communities alike. The bill also directs the Corps to carry out these projects in an economically and environmentally responsible manner, with an added emphasis on coordinating with state, local and Tribal partners to execute projects equitably. I want to thank Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Chair Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member David Rouzer (R. N.C.) for their important work on this legislation. I urge the Senate to act quickly so we can send a final bill to the President’s desk to be signed into law.”
The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs Michele Stanley said, “The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2022 affects every community, as it provides a roadmap for upgrading and modernizing our water resources infrastructure. Specifically for our members in the aggregates industry, it provides planning certainty and funding for projects over the next two years. This is critical, as aggregate producers supply the building materials needed to complete the important projects outlined in the bill. These include the improvement of ports; development of flood control systems; reinforcement of our shorelines; and maintaining our waterways for the movement of goods and resources.
“Additionally, the House of Representatives passing the 2022 WRDA reauthorization, by a vote of 384-37, continues the tradition of bipartisan support for this vital infrastructure bill. NSSGA thanks the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman DeFazio (OR) and Ranking Member Graves (MO) for their work to move WRDA through Committee and the full House of Representatives. We look forward to the Senate taking up their version of WRDA, which received unanimous support in the Environment and Public Works Committee, to ensure our water infrastructure receives necessary funding in a timely manner.”
MSHA Launches Silica Dust Initiative
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has launched a new enforcement initiative to “better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards resulting from repeated overexposure to respirable crystalline silica.” MSHA said that silica dust affects thousands of miners each year and, without adequate protection, miners face risks of serious illnesses, many of which can be fatal.
“Crystalline silica is a common mineral found in the earth’s crust. Materials like sand, stone, concrete and mortar contain crystalline silica. Respirable crystalline silica – minute particles at least 100 times smaller than ordinary beach sand – becomes airborne during cutting, sawing, grinding, drilling and crushing stone and rock,” MSHA stated.
“Without proper protections and engineering controls in place, miners can be exposed to dangerous levels of crystalline silica particles, which increases their risk of developing serious silica-related diseases. These conditions include incurable lung diseases such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly referred to as “black lung;” progressive massive fibrosis, the most severe form of black lung; silicosis; lung and other cancers; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; and kidney disease,” the agency concluded.
“Simply put, protecting miners from unhealthy levels of silica cannot wait,” said Assistant Secretary for Mine Safety and Health Chris Williamson. “We are committed to using every tool in MSHA’s toolbox to protect miners from developing debilitating and deadly lung diseases that are entirely preventable. We have seen too many miners carrying oxygen tanks and struggling to breathe just to take a few steps or do the simplest of tasks after having their lungs destroyed by toxic levels of respirable dust.”
“Our agency is working hard and is committed to issuing a silica rule that will enhance health protections for all miners. The enforcement initiative that we are announcing today is a step we can take now while we continue the rulemaking process toward the development of an improved mandatory health standard,” Williamson added.
As part of the program, MSHA will conduct silica dust-related mine inspections and expand silica sampling at mines, while providing mine operators with compliance assistance and best practices to limit miners’ exposure to silica dust.
Specifically, the silica enforcement initiative will include:
- Spot inspections at coal and metal nonmetal mines with a history of repeated silica overexposures to closely monitor and evaluate health and safety conditions.
- Increased oversight and enforcement of known silica hazards at mines with previous citations for exposing miners to silica dust levels over the existing permissible exposure limit of 100 micrograms. For metal and nonmetal mines where the operator has not timely abated hazards, MSHA will issue a 104(b) withdrawal order until the silica overexposure hazard has been abated. For coal mines, MSHA will encourage changes to dust control and ventilation plans to address known health hazards.
- Expanded silica sampling at metal and nonmetal mines to ensure inspectors’ samples represent the mines, commodities, and occupations known to have the highest risk for overexposure.
- A focus on sampling during periods of the mining process that present the highest risk of silica exposure for miners. For coal mines, those processes include shaft and slope sinking, extended cuts and developing crosscuts, while metal and nonmetal sampling will focus on miners working to remove overburden.
- Reminding miners about their rights to report hazardous health conditions, including any attempt to tamper with the sampling process.
In addition, Educational Field and Small Mine Services staff will provide compliance assistance and outreach to mine operators, unions and other mining community organizations to promote and advance protections for miners.
The recently launched MSHA initiative is intended to take immediate action to reduce the risks of silica dust exposure as the department’s development of a mining industry standard continues.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Provides Massive New Tribal Funding
The White House released a Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Tribal Playbook to help Tribal governments unlock the benefits from the historic investments in our nation’s infrastructure, including the more than $13 billion set aside in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for Indian Country.
The Tribal Playbook, found at build.gov, builds on the release of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Guidebook and provides Tribal communities with information on the more specific Tribal funding available under the law, in addition to the hundreds of billions available to Tribes on a competitive basis.
President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will send billions of dollars to Indian Country to provide affordable high-speed internet, safer roads and bridges, modern wastewater and sanitation systems, clean drinking water, reliable and affordable electricity, and good paying jobs in every Tribal community. As part of this effort, the Biden-Harris administration is also committed to working with Tribal communities to help them access federal resources.
“We are committed to ensuring Indian Country will benefit from this once-in-a-generation investment,” said Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor and infrastructure implementation coordinator. “Building a better America requires these funds to reach Tribal communities that have been left behind for far too long. The President sees you, and major investments are on the way.”
This week, the administration made progress in getting massive sanitation and water investments moving through the Indian Health Service and Environmental Protection Agency. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law appropriates $3.5 billion to the Indian Health Service to build the infrastructure necessary to ensure a safe supply of drinking water, reliable sewage systems, and solid waste disposal facilities.
The funding will promote high-quality health care and disease prevention in Tribal communities. The first year, FY 2022, spend plan is estimated at $700 million and will be shared with Tribal communities through a Dear Tribal Leader Letter. EPA’s Office of Water will send another $154 million this year to Tribes for water projects through its Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds. This funding will go to projects that replace lead pipes and address harmful pollutants, among other eligible uses.
To help coordinate these and other water and wastewater infrastructure funds, EPA has revitalized the Tribal Infrastructure Task Force (ITF) through a new Memorandum of Understanding between seven federal agencies. Signatories include:
- The U.S Department of Agriculture.
- The Environmental Protection Agency.
- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- The Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.
- The Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.
- The Department of Health and Human Services, Indian Health Service.
- The Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, the Departments of Transportation and Energy will also release funding for Tribal infrastructure that will increase road safety and power unelectrified buildings. The DOE issued a Notice of Intent for a $15 million investment to support powering unelectrified Tribal buildings. Earlier this month, the Department of Transportation announced nearly $9 million for the Federal Highway Administration’s Tribal Transportation Safety Program. Soon, they will announce the availability of an additional $120 million for the program over five years from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Since President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law six months ago, the Biden-Harris administration has made key progress toward implementing the largest long-term investment in America’s infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century. More than $110 billion has been announced and allocated to states, Tribes, territories and communities from formula and competitive programs for roads and highways, bridges, ports, airports, electric vehicle charging stations, water systems, high speed internet and weatherization.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding builds off the Administration’s historic investment in Tribal communities in the American Rescue Plan, with $32 billion allocated to Tribal governments, including $20 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds – an historic financial level of support for more than 580 Tribal governments and the largest amount of funding to Tribal governments in ARP. To date, Tribal governments have obligated funds to nearly 900 projects that address the negative economic impacts of COVID and more than 1,800 other projects that are helping Indian Country recover and strengthen capacity.