Local governments have a new forum on Capitol Hill focusing on the many challenges and opportunities they face: the Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee in the US House of Representatives. The new Subcommittee was created in January at the start of the new Congress and is led by Chairman Gary J. Palmer (AL-6) and Ranking Member Val Butler Demings (FL-10). The Subcommittee has broad responsibility over “the relationship between the federal government and states and municipalities, including unfunded mandates, federal regulations, grants, and programs.”
Chairman Palmer is especially interested in addressing how environmental laws and regulations can be a “roadblock to states and local communities and infrastructure projects.” For example, testimony by one local official at the Subcommittee’s first hearing indicated that federal environmental regulations can double the cost of building a road per mile, increasing the cost from $80,000 to $160,000. The Chairman said at that hearing that he hopes his new Subcommittee will help “find ways to continue protecting our environment while simultaneously encouraging infrastructure development and economic growth” and also “play a role in beginning to streamline the regulatory process and devolve control back the States” and their local governments.
The Subcommittee is currently seeking input from local officials to learn about their concerns and needs and inform its efforts. After the Subcommittee investigates and holds hearings, it can either consider legislative solutions or work directly with federal agencies to fix issues and open doors for local governments.
One of the first things the Subcommittee is expected to consider is an update to the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, a regulatory process law passed in 1995. The Act is designed to prevent federal agencies from imposing unnecessary expenses on local governments because they can displace other “governmental priorities” and require “increases in local property taxes and cuts in essential services” that “threaten the ability of many citizens to attain and maintain the American dream of owning a home in a safe, secure community.” 2 U.S.C. §1501(2); 2 U.S.C. §1513(a). Local officials and representatives recently testified before the Subcommittee that federal agencies are not complying with either the letter or the spirit of the Act, and the Subcommittee may consider a legislative fix to address the issue.
For local governments confronting a host of environmental issues, whether they be national in scope or specific to a project or facility, the Intergovernmental Affairs Subcommittee offers a new point of access to federal legislators interested in reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens.