By Patrick Ambrosio, Andrew Childers, Jessica Coomes, and Amena H. Saiyid
House Republicans released a draft appropriations bill July 22 that would cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 34 percent compared with the fiscal 2013 enacted level and restrict the agency's ability to implement air and water quality regulations.
The House's fiscal 2014 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill would provide EPA with $5.5 billion in funding in fiscal 2014, a $2.8 billion reduction compared with the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. The $24.3 billion appropriations bill contains enough spending cuts to replace automatic discretionary spending cuts established under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
The bill would cut funding from several agencies within the Interior Department, including the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and would forbid the department from spending appropriated funds to work on a rule governing protections for the greater sage grouse (see related story).
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a July 22 statement that the bill would boost the economy and encourage job growth by “holding back overly zealous and unnecessary environmental regulations.”
The bill contains numerous legislative riders that would restrict the agency from finalizing planned environmental regulations, including greenhouse gas emissions standards for new and existing electric-generating plants and proposed Tier 3 standards for gasoline and motor vehicles.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies is scheduled to meet July 23 to mark up the bill.
The House proposal includes severe cuts to the clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, which provide capital for water infrastructure projects.
The clean water SRF would receive $250 million under the House proposal, a cut of approximately $1.2 billion compared with the fiscal 2013 enacted level of $1.44 billion. The House proposed to fund the drinking water SRF at a level of $350 million, down approximately $550 million from the fiscal 2013 enacted level of $899 million.
The state revolving funds have been targeted for cuts by both parties in recent years. The president's fiscal 2014 budget request, which requested a total of $8.2 billion in funding for EPA, proposed a combined cut of $472 million for the SRFs (70 DEN A-4, 4/11/13).
The House legislation also would cut the agency's operational accounts by $921 million, or 20 percent; cut the Office of the EPA Administrator by more than 30 percent; and cut funding for the agency's Congressional Affairs Office by 50 percent, according to the committee.
Alexandra Dunn, general counsel and executive director for the Association of Clean Water Administrators, told BNA July 22 that the organization of state and interstate water pollution regulators is “stunned” by the proposed $1.2 billion cut to the clean water SRF.
“These are unprecedented low levels,” Dunn said. “I can't even imagine a national funding level of this amount.”
Patricia Sinicropi, legislative affairs director for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, told BNA in a July 22 email that the proposed $250 million funding level for the clean water SRF would “severely undermine the program's ability to be of sufficient help to communities.”
Sinicropi called on Congress to create an “alternative, sustainable funding mechanism” for clean water projects if the discretionary spending process cannot adequately support infrastructure funding.
Diane VanDe Hei, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, told BNA in a July 22 email that it is “simply unconscionable” for the House to propose cutting the drinking water SRF by more than 60 percent. She cited a recent EPA report that estimated $384 billion in funding is needed through 2030 to maintain the current level of service of the nation's drinking water systems (108 DEN A-1, 6/5/13).
Tim Williams, senior government affairs director for the Water Environment Federation, told BNA July 22 that the proposed SRF funding levels are “shocking and discouraging.”
Williams added that a “buy American” provision included in the bill would increase the cost of municipal water projects, compounding the effect of the SRF cuts. The buy American language would require all projects that receive funding from the SRFs to use domestically produced iron and steel products, though it includes an exemption for projects where the use of domestic materials would increase the overall project cost by more than 25 percent.
The House Appropriations Committee included language that would restrict EPA's ability to work on several major environmental regulations, including greenhouse gas standards for new and existing fossil fuel-fired power plants that are a central part of the president's climate change plan.
Obama has ordered EPA to revise a proposed rule from 2012 setting new source performance standards for new fossil fuel-fired power plants by Sept. 20 as part of a climate change plan unveiled June 25. EPA in April 2012 had proposed single standard for 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity generation for all fossil fuel-fired power plants regardless of fuel type. The revised proposal is expected to include separate emissions limits by fuel type (132 DEN A-1, 7/10/13).
Obama's climate plan would also require EPA to propose similar performance standards for existing power plants by June 1, 2014, and to issue a final regulation by June 1, 2015. States would have to develop plans to implement the standards for existing power plants by June 30, 2016.
The appropriations bill would restrict EPA from spending funds to develop, issue, implement, or enforce any regulation establishing new source performance standards for any new or existing electric-generating plants.
Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told BNA July 22 the House budget “may very well be the worst bill ever.”
“The cuts and long list of harmful riders in the bill represent a paroxysm of pointless political posturing dangerous only because of its abdication of any serious attempt to govern,” he said in an email.
The House bill also includes language that would require the president to submit a “comprehensive report” on climate change spending to Congress in 2014. The report, which would be due 120 days after the president submits his fiscal 2015 budget request, would detail all federal spending on climate change programs and activities from fiscal 2011 through fiscal 2013.
The House proposal also includes language that would restrict EPA from moving ahead with Tier 3 standards for gasoline and vehicles.
EPA proposed in May to cut the allowable sulfur content of gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 ppm beginning in 2017. The proposed rule also includes new evaporative emissions standards and new volatile organic compound, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter emissions standards for new light- and heavy-duty vehicles (98 DEN A-1, 5/21/13).
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, told BNA July 22 that including the Tier 3 provision in the spending bill could be an attempt by opponents to intimidate the White House into slowing work on the rule, which is scheduled to be finalized by December to allow for the regulations to be in place for model year 2017 vehicles.
O'Donnell called the Tier 3 language in the appropriations bill “a classic special-interest provision.” He said it is “almost self-evident” that the amendment was crafted in conjunction with the oil industry, which is the only industry that has objected to the proposed Tier 3 standards.
A coalition of 36 companies and nonprofit organizations, including Clean Air Watch, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and United Steelworkers, sent letters to members of the House Appropriations Committee urging them to oppose inclusion of the Tier 3 rider in the appropriations bill. The groups said the new standards will “reduce air pollution, save lives, and create thousands of new jobs in an ailing economy.”
The House bill also includes language that would prohibit EPA from using funding to promulgate regulations requiring the issuance of Title V permits for emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor or methane emissions from livestock production; requiring mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems; or beginning development of an air pollution control cost manual.
Steve Fleischli, water program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told BNA July 22 that the House appropriations bill is a “wholesale assault” on EPA's efforts to ensure clean water.
He said the legislation includes riders that would hamper the “core efforts of EPA to keep our waters clean.”
The House appropriations bill would restrict the federal government from:
• moving ahead with a proposed stream protection rule that would revise the current stream buffer zone;
• issuing a rule that would update the definition of the term “waters of the United States,” which are subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act;
• continuing work on a proposed rule designed to prevent fish from being killed by cooling water intake structures at power plants and manufacturing facilities;
• issuing a regulation or guidance that would expand the federal stormwater discharge program under the Clean Water Act to post-construction commercial or residential properties;
• requiring municipal storm sewer system operators serving fewer than 100,000 people to obtain a permit for certain discharges; and
• requiring permits for discharges of stormwater runoff from roads that are associated with silvicultural activities.
Alexandra Dunn of ACWA said the riders target “the heart of EPA activities under the water program. Certainly some of these regulations need more discussion, but prohibiting EPA from working on them is undemocratic.”
The House Appropriation Committee's draft fiscal 2014 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill is available at http://appropriations.house.gov/uploadedfiles/bills-113hr-sc-ap-fy2014-interior-subcommitteedraft.pdf.