Indy DC Download: Senate cracks down on methane emissions, passes water infrastructure bill

The Senate voted to reinstate methane emission restrictions for the oil and gas industry and overwhelmingly approved legislation to provide $35 billion to improve drinking water and wastewater infrastructure around the nation.

The methane restriction resolution passed 52 to 42 and the water infrastructure measure was approved on an 89 to 2 vote.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) voted for both bills. 

The Senate votes came as both Senate and House committees held hearings, including one led by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) on reauthorizing the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which provides aid to communities experiencing long-term economic distress or sudden economic dislocation. No roll call votes were held in the House last week.

Last week also saw President Joe Biden give his first address to a joint session of Congress where he touted accomplishments in his first 100 days. He pressed for Congress to act on his new $1.8 trillion education and child care proposal known as the American Families Plan.

In his speech, Biden also urged Congress to reform the immigration system, including providing a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, those brought to the country illegally as children, and recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows people from countries plagued by wars or disasters to stay in the U.S. A group of five Las Vegas residents were in Washington, D.C. to pressure lawmakers to act.

Senate votes

The Senate used the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to repeal a rule imposed last year by President Donald Trump that sought to undo methane restrictions on oil and gas producers, which President Barack Obama first imposed in 2012 and 2016. 

"It was a very dark day for our globe when Trump did that," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference Wednesday. 

He noted that methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas—84 times more dangerous to the planet than carbon dioxide—and the oil and gas industry is the nation’s largest emitter of methane.  

The CRA allows Congress to repeal regulations within 60 days from when they were submitted to Congress or from their publication in the Federal Register, whichever date is later. Resolutions under the law cannot be filibustered in the Senate and require only a simple majority for passage.

The resolution was approved with Democratic votes with three Republicans joining them, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

The House still needs to pass the resolution before it goes to Biden for his signature. 

Both Cortez Masto and Rosen lauded Senate passage of legislation, known as the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, that would authorize providing $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater system improvements.

“This bipartisan bill will help revitalize our water system and improve clean water access in our cities as well as our rural and tribal areas,” Cortez Masto said in a release. 

Rosen highlighted the bipartisan 89 to 2 vote. Only Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) opposed the measure. 

“I’m proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bipartisan legislation that will provide funding for safe drinking water, new technologies, and the removal of lead pipes,” Rosen said.

The bill would provide $100 million a year for the next five years for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) lead reduction grant program. Most of the money, $30 billion, would go to the EPAs drinking water and wastewater state revolving funds program (SRF). 

Each state, including Nevada, has drinking water and wastewater SRFs, which receive federal funds to provide low-interest and subsidized loans to water systems for capital improvements. Each SRF requires a 20 percent state match.

As loans are repaid to the state’s SRFs, the state makes new loans to other recipients and the funds hence “revolve” over time.

Hearings

Members of the delegation participated in a slew of hearings last week, including Titus, who is chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee that oversees the Economic Development Administration (EDA).

She probed EDA acting chief Dennis Alvord on $750 million awarded to the agency in the $1.9 trillion COVID-relief law enacted last month, the American Rescue Plan. The law set aside that sum to help tourist-dependent areas, like Las Vegas, rebound from the pandemic. Titus helped get the provision included in the law. 

Asked by Titus if Congress needs to take any actions to help EDA get the funding out, Alvord said that he does not believe that the agency needs any new authorities to distribute the aid. 

“We are intending to be incredibly flexible in the use of those funds so that we can meet a broad range of needs,” Alvord said. 

He said the agency intends to use the funds to help tourist-dependent areas diversify their economies and help bring back tourism, recreation and other activities.

“We’ll be funding a mix of strategies for recovery, assistance for marketing to help areas to bounce back quickly as well as core infrastructure investments to help the industry,” Alvord said. 

Titus said she’s been getting questions from constituents on how the funds could be used, and called for Alvord to get written guidance on the program done as soon as possible.

The law authorizing EDA expired in 2008, but Congress has continued funding the agency every year since in recognition of “the importance of its critical mission and impact,” Titus said.

She hopes to pass a reauthorization, which she believes could make EDA even more effective. “This is a big moment for the EDA,” she said.

Rosen took part in several hearings last week, including a meeting on COVID and mental health convened by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. She talked about the importance of using the telephone to provide mental health services to rural residents.

“Sometimes it’s the only thing they have,” Rosen said. “And oftentimes there's a security to being on the phone, maybe not showing their face, maybe not letting you into their home, maybe they can go to a safe space and use a telephone.”

Jonathan Muther, vice president of behavioral health at Salud Family Health Centers in Colorado, agreed that the phone has been useful for quick check-ins and could reach more people, especially in rural areas, who need mental health care.

“I think the phone-only is absolutely essential for the very, very brief, quick check-in encounters that...are meaningful and not reliant on a traditional, 45-minute, face-to-face, lay-on-the-couch therapy hour,” Muther said. “This allows for brief check-ins to see how individuals are doing and monitor follow ups in a way that is quick, easy and accessible for both the patient and the provider.” 

Immigration

Three Las Vegas women with Honduran roots participated in a protest in the nation's capital to pressure Congress to give Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients permanent immigration status.

Las Vegas residents who participated in an immigration protest in Washington, D.C. April 29, 2021. From left to right: Emily Hernandez, Maria Mendoza, Francis Garcia and Nazareth Jimenez. (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

Francis Garcia, who works on the Strip, her daughter Nazareth Jimenez and Maria Mendoza, a cook at The Egg and I in Las Vegas, all participated in a short hunger strike. The three went without food for three days. They were the last of a series of TPS recipients and supporters from around the country who did the three-day fast to highlight their plight. The protest lasted for a total of 43 days at Freedom Plaza, near the White House.

“We want permanent residency,” Mendoza, who has lived in Nevada since 1997, said in an interview. “We have supported this country, we’ve worked in this country and we’ve lived most of our lives in this country. So our message to President Biden and Congress is to act and to give us permanent residency.” 

The House passed a bill in March that would provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers, TPS recipients, and those receiving Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). TPS and DED both allow individuals from certain designated countries to stay in the U.S. on humanitarian grounds. But the Senate has not taken up the bill. A group of senators, including Cortez Masto, are holding informal talks on a possible compromise. However, they do not appear close to reaching a deal.

The three strikers were accompanied by two other Las Vegas residents, who came for moral support. Jose Lopez, a TPS holder from Honduras and Emily Hernandez, a citizen and daughter of a Salvadoran TPS holder. She participated in the strike a month ago. Hernandez’s brother is a DREAMer who is participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children from deportation and allows them to work.

“I am the only U.S. citizen in my family,” Hernandez said. “I always knew it was my duty to use my voice for them and to speak about this issue and for the 11 million immigrants as well who don't have a status.” 

The Las Vegas cohorts met with a representative from Cortez Masto's office at the protest. Members of the Las Vegas TPS Alliance typically come every year to D.C. to meet with the delegation. But the Capitol building has been closed to visitors since March due to COVID restrictions. 

Titus said that she expects Biden to extend the October deadline for TPS recipients from Honduras and El Salvador, but the protesters want something permanent rather than exist with the possibility of one day being deported.

Hernandez said that until a law is passed, she lives with the fear that "they're still going to send our parents away."

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation sponsored:

S.1516 – A bill to amend titles 23 and 49, United States Code, to encourage travel and tourism, and for other purposes.

S.1502 – A bill to make Federal law enforcement officer peer support communications confidential, and for other purposes.

S.1498 – A bill to require the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish the Emerging Technology Standards-Setting Task Force, and for other purposes.

S.1442 – A bill to establish the Corporation for Career Pathways to promote pathways to unfilled and emerging job markets, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1520 – A bill to reform the disposition of charges and convening of courts-martial for certain offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and increase the prevention of sexual assaults and other crimes in the military.

S.1489 – A bill to amend the Inspector General Act of 1978 to establish an Inspector General of the Office of the United States Trade Representative, and for other purposes.

S.1488 – A bill to amend title 37, United States Code, to establish a basic needs allowance for low-income regular members of the Armed Forces.

S.1476 – A bill to amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to enable greater participation by seniors and Medicare beneficiaries in State Medicaid programs for working people with disabilities.

S.1471 – A bill to enhance protections of Native American tangible cultural heritage, and for other purposes.

S.1412 – A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land in Carson City, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S.1411 – A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land to Lander County, Nevada, to designate certain wilderness areas in Lander County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S.1408 – A bill to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, J. Christopher Stevens, and Sean Smith, in recognition of their contributions to the Nation.

S.1365 – A bill to direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish a new Tribal priority window for the 2.5 gigahertz band, and for other purposes.

SEN. JACKY ROSEN

Legislation sponsored:

S.1412 – A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land in Carson City, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S.1411 – A bill to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land to Lander County, Nevada, to designate certain wilderness areas in Lander County, Nevada, and for other purposes.

S.1394 – A bill to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to include teacher preparation for computer science in elementary and secondary education.

Legislation co-sponsored:

S.1512 – A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to expand access to telehealth services, and for other purposes.

S.1488 – A bill to amend title 37, United States Code, to establish a basic needs allowance for low-income regular members of the Armed Forces.

S.1471 – A bill to enhance protections of Native American tangible cultural heritage, and for other purposes.

S.1466 – A bill to authorize the Director of the United States Geological Survey to establish a regional program to assess, monitor, and benefit the hydrology of saline lakes in the Great Basin and the migratory birds and other wildlife dependent on those habitats, and for other purposes.

S.1461 – A bill to establish a program to award grants to entities that provide transportation connectors from critically underserved urban communities and rural communities to green spaces.

S.1400 – A bill to amend the Federal Power Act to provide energy cybersecurity investment incentives, to establish a grant and technical assistance program for cybersecurity investments, and for other purposes.

S.1385 – A bill to amend the Animal Welfare Act to establish additional requirements for dealers, and for other purposes.

S.1379 – A bill to provide for research to better understand the causes and consequences of sexual harassment affecting individuals in the scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics workforce and to examine policies to reduce the prevalence and negative impact of such harassment, and for other purposes.

S.1374 – A bill to direct the Director of the National Science Foundation to support STEM education and workforce development research focused on rural areas, and for other purposes.

S.1365 – A bill to direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish a new Tribal priority window for the 2.5 gigahertz band, and for other purposes.

REP. STEVEN HORSFORD

Legislation sponsored:

H.R. 2882 – To extend the authorization of the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area, to designate the Great Basin National Heritage Route in the State of Nevada as the "Great Basin National Heritage Area", to designate the Great Basin Heritage Route Partnership as the "Great Basin Heritage Area Partnership", to extend the authorization of the Great Basin National Heritage Area, and for other purposes.

Legislation co-sponsored:

H.R. 2837 – To amend the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 to repeal a certain disqualification to receive benefits under title IV of the Social Security Act and benefits under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008; and to amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to provide that incarcerated individuals who are scheduled to be released from an institution within 30 days shall be considered to be a household for purposes of such Act.