2023 Mississippi River Legislative Caucus Forum
October 5-6, 2023
Legislators From Seven States Convene in New Orleans to Learn about Federal Funding Opportunities to Improve the Health of the Mississippi River
On October 5 and 6, state legislators from throughout the Mississippi River region gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana for the annual forum of the Mississippi River Legislative Caucus (MRLC). The annual MRLC forum allows legislators to learn about the most pressing river-related issues facing states, share lessons learned, and collaborate with key experts on multi-state solutions. This year’s forum focused on federal funding opportunities for ensuring a healthy and thriving Mississippi River. Learn more about this year’s MRLC forum below.
Day One – Capitalizing on Federal Funding Opportunities for a Healthy Mississippi River Region
The MRLC Forum kicked off Thursday morning with introductions from MRLC staff and highlighting the legislative successes from 2023. The remainder of the day was spent doing a deep dive into various ways to leverage federal funding for a healthier Mississippi River. In the morning, the U.S. Water Alliance presented on water infrastructure federal funding opportunities. This included information about money available for water infrastructure through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Legislators then walked through ways to analyze how equipped their state is to utilize the historic funding opportunities, execute projects, and make sure the funding is making it to communities that need it most.
After lunch, American Rivers shared steps legislators need to take to increase access to federal Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grants and STORM Act State Revolving Fund money made available in the recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and IIJA packages. The presentation included example legislation to make sure states have the proper regulations in place to be competitive for these federal funds.
The National Audobon Society then presented on the policy landscape after the Sackett vs EPA Supreme Court decision and the critical role of states in protecting wetlands. Legislators learned about policy solutions and lessons learned from Wisconsin’s wetland fight to restore and conserve wetlands.
The day wrapped up with a presentation from the Environmental Policy Innovation Center (EPIC) on their research on bottlenecks in implementing environmental restoration projects and four existing policy approaches states can use to overcome them.
The evening was spent enjoying a water walking tour through the French Quarter in New Orleans led by the Greater Water Collaborative of New Orleans. Legislators had the chance to converse with one another, reflect on all the topics that had been discussed during the forum’s first day, and learn more about the area and river’s history.
Day Two – Healthy Farms for a Healthy River
Legislators returned for a second day of sessions with a focus on creating healthy farms to ensure a healthy river.
First was a presentation from Defend Our Health on PFAS in agriculture and federal funding opportunities. PFAS contamination presents a severe financial risk to impacted farmers and presents elevated health risks to people living and working on or near contaminated farms, as well as potential health risks to consumers. Legislators learned about the opportunities to support impacted communities and prevent ongoing exposure to the chemicals through state and federal policy.
The final session was from the Mississippi River Network about the Farm Bill Conservation Programs and opportunities from the IRA. The Farm Bill covers programs that help farmers and ranchers implement natural resource conservation efforts on working lands like pasture and croplands as well as land retirement and easement programs. Legislators were briefed on the latest updates on Farm Bill 2024 and the effort to maximize the historic opportunity presented by the IRA, conservation programs, and state-based resources related to IRA implementation.
We wrapped up the MRLC Forum with a roundtable discussion of what legislators will be working on next session as well as ways to build synergy across the region.
Thank you to all who attended and made the 2023 MRLC Forum a success!
Looking Ahead to the 2024 Legislative Session
As we look towards the 2024 sessions, MRLC staff are committed to providing the resources and capacity Mississippi River legislators need to address the issues facing the watershed. Through regional convenings such as the Annual Forum and our River Tours, in-state meetings, and policy updates, we are here to help. If you are interested in learning more about MRLC’s work or becoming a member, contact Angela Yuan.