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June 16, 2009
     
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Government Relations


Congress Continues to Work on “Card Check” Compromise

Senate Leaders are continuing tense negotiations with moderate democrats to try to meet the 60-vote threshold that would be needed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, better known as the “Card Check” bill. The main fence-sitters and targets for the bill are Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

Perhaps most controversial is the bill’s provision that would allow the “card check” procedure that favors union organization by majority sign-up, to be used instead of a secret ballot for unionization elections. Another controversy in the bill is a provision that requires binding first-contract arbitration in cases where new unions are unable to conclude a contract with their employers in the first 120 days of negotiations.

In order to gain moderate support, proponents of the bill may alter the card check provisions but retain the binding arbitration time limit. One such compromise comes from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) who has proposed a majority sign-up-by-mail option that could keep the tallying free from union leader pressure.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who is leading the negotiations on the bill, suspects that it will not be voted on until July.

 

Appropriations Subcommittee Approves Boost to Clean Water, Drinking Water State Revolving Funds

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment approved a draft FY 2010 bill that would provide $2.3 billion and $1.4 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds (SRF), respectively.

The subcommittee-approved spending bill would allocate some of the SRF money in the form of zero-interest and negative-interest loans. A similar approach was taken in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act earlier this year that was drafted by this same subcommittee.

In addition to the generous increases in the State Revolving Fund programs, $160 million would be provided in earmarks for water and sewer projects. Chairman of the subcommittee, Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), reported that he had received 1,200 water and sewer earmark requests from House members.

— Silva advances in the Senate.

In related news, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the nomination of Peter S. Silva to be EPA’s assistant administrator for water. The full Senate now must act.

 

Water Security Bills Emerge in House

Two draft bills have emerged in the House that could divide the jurisdiction for security regulation of water and wastewater utilities between two separate agencies. Under the draft bills, drinking water utilities would be regulated for security by the Environmental Protection Agency, but wastewater utilities by the Department of Homeland Security.

Concerns regarding duplicative and/or conflicting regulation have already been presented to lawmakers and would be particularly problematic for utility operations that combine drinking water and wastewater service.

This regulatory scheme is the latest development in a long-simmering dispute between two House committees over the jurisdiction of water utility security. And while organizations representing water utilities, including NAWC, are concerned about this potential division, we are working to ensure this issue is adequately addressed before any bill becomes law. Furthermore, the Senate has not been active on this issue yet and does not have the same committee disputes, so a final bill is still a long way off.