CSAC Bulletin Article

House Passes Multi-Year FAA Renewal Legislation
Bill Includes CSAC-Supported Environmental Reciprocity Amendment

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved legislation (HR 4) that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The measure, which was cleared on a 393 to 13 vote, is especially important to counties that operate airports, as it would renew programmatic authority for federal aviation programs through fiscal year 2023. The FAA is currently operating on a short-term extension that runs through September 30.

All told, HR 4 authorizes nearly $113 billion over six years for various aviation-related purposes, including $3.35 billion per year in mandatory spending for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), or level investment.  Large and small airports alike rely on AIP grants to fund critically important infrastructure and safety projects, including the construction and repair of runways, taxiways, and other airfield projects.  The House bill also would authorize additional discretionary spending – totaling $5.3 billion over five years – for AIP projects at rural, non-hub airports.

In addition, HR 4 would provide nearly $1 billion in discretionary funding over six years for the Essential Air Service (EAS) program.  Currently funded at $155 million, the authorization for the EAS program would grow by $3 to $4 million annually, topping off at $172 million in fiscal year 2023.  The EAS provides a subsidy to airlines to ensure that certain small communities maintain a minimal level of scheduled air service.  Another federal program aimed at supporting commercial service in rural areas – the Small Community Air Service Development Program – is funded at $10 million annually, or level funding.

With regard to drone policy, House members approved an amendment to HR 4 that would make permanent the Department of Transportation’s Integration Pilot Program (IPP).  Codification of the IPP would further promote the need to properly balance the roles of federal, state, and local governments in the regulation of low-altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) operations.  The bill also directs the FAA to partner with state and local agencies to prevent recreational unmanned aircrafts from interfering with the efforts of emergency responders.

Environmental Reciprocity

In a victory for CSAC, the House adopted an amendment to the House aviation bill that, if enacted into law, could pave the way for California to take advantage of a new environmental reciprocity program created by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.  The amendment, sponsored by Representatives Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Jim Costa (D-CA), would modify the Statute of Limitations (SOL) for the new program.

Pursuant to Section 1309 of the FAST Act, up to five qualified states may seek participation in a DOT pilot program to conduct environmental reviews and make approvals for both state and local projects under State environmental laws and regulations instead of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The program would build upon California’s long-term and successful execution of the NEPA Assignment Program (23 USC § 327), which allows the State to assume FHWA’s environmental responsibilities for review, consultation, and compliance for Federal-aid highway projects.

It should be noted that the FAST Act affords potential litigants a two-year window to file a claim for judicial review of an agency action in connection with a Section 1309 project.  By way of comparison, federal law sets the SOL for other highway and transit projects at 150 days, while the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) provides a 30-day petition period.  The extended SOL under Section 1309 effectively precludes the new program from being implemented because of the heightened litigation risks to state and local governments.

The Denham-Costa amendment revises the reciprocity program by bringing the SOL for covered projects in line with the judicial review requirements for other federal highway and public transportation capital projects.  If enacted into law, the modification would ensure certainty and predictability in the transportation decision-making process and would ultimately allow California to move forward with applying to USDOT for reciprocity program participation.

Disaster Reforms Included in FAA Bill

HR 4 includes several components of a House committee-approved disaster reform bill.  The legislation, known as the Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA, HR 4460), would increase federal investment in pre-disaster mitigation activities, as well as boost the reimbursement caps for state and local governments on a range of disaster costs.

The bill also would provide states with the option to administer FEMA funding for direct temporary housing and permanent housing construction following a presidentially declared disaster.  Under the terms of the legislation, FEMA would be required to fund 100 percent of the direct temporary housing costs.

HR 4 also would direct FEMA to increase consideration of severe local impact when evaluating whether to recommend that an event be declared a major disaster.  Additionally, the legislation would require FEMA to coordinate emergency response plans with state and local governments, as well as require the agency to provide enhanced training to state and local first responders.

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