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President Proposes 3.8 Percent Cut To EPA Funding for Fiscal Year 2015

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

By Patrick Ambrosio  

March 4 — President Barack Obama's fiscal 2015 budget request includes $7.89 billion in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, a cut of approximately $310 million, or 3.8 percent, from the agency's current funding level of $8.2 billion.

The budget request, released March 4, proposes to increase funding for categorical grants awarded to states and tribes and provide additional funding for various other agency programs, including the hazardous substance superfund program.

The overall EPA spending cut would largely be achieved through “targeted reductions” to the state clean water and drinking water revolving funds. Those funds, which provide capital for water infrastructure projects, would receive a combined total of $1.8 billion under the budget proposal, a decrease of $581 million from the fiscal 2014 enacted level.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said the president's budget request adheres to a fiscal 2015 discretionary spending limit of $1.014 trillion, the spending cap agreed to by Congress in December (Pub. L. No. 113-67). The budget proposal also includes an additional $56 billion in funding for priority programs, dubbed the “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative,” which will be split evenly between defense and nondefense spending and fully paid for through a combination of spending cuts and the closure of so-called tax loopholes.

EPA Targets Resources, Cuts Programs

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, speaking during a March 4 conference call with reporters, said the fiscal 2015 budget request for the EPA takes a “strategic approach” to targeting resources toward priority activities in light of reduced budget resources. McCarthy said the trend for the EPA during the past three years has seen “zero real growth” for the EPA.

“That trend just doesn't look like it will change anytime soon.”

McCarthy said the proposed budget would support priority work to address climate change and air quality, clean water, toxics and chemical safety and EPA work with communities.

The president's budget requests the establishment of a $1 billion climate resilience fund that would address severe weather events, including drought, that are related to climate change.

The president also proposed to increase the Energy Department's budget by 2.6 percent, including increased funding for clean energy programs.

Categorical Grant Increase

The budget request does propose an increase to EPA's categorical grants, which are provided to states and tribes to aid them in conducting delegated activities under federal environmental law, including clean air monitoring and water pollution control. Categorical grants would be funded at a level of $1.1 billion in fiscal 2015 under the president's budget, an increase of $76 million above the fiscal 2014 enacted level.

That total includes $249.2 million in funding for water pollution control grants awarded under section 106 of the Clean Water Act, an increase of approximately $18.4 million compared to the fiscal 2014 enacted level. The administration also proposed $164.9 million in funding for the nonpoint source program grants awarded under section 319 of the Clean Water Act, an increase of $5.7 million compared to the fiscal 2014 enacted level. The budget request also proposes to eliminate a statutory cap on section 319 grants that may be awarded to tribes, which will allow the EPA to provide funding in accordance with tribal needs.

Alexandra Dunn, executive director and general counsel at the Association of Clean Water Administrators, told Bloomberg BNA in a March 4 e-mail that her organization is pleased with proposed increased funding for state implementation of clean water programs.

“The state-federal partnership could not be more important than it is today and these funds are needed at the state level to assure clean water for our nation,” Dunn said.

The president's budget includes $256.1 million for categorical grants awarded to states and tribes for air management programs under the Clean Air Act, an increase of $15 million compared to the fiscal 2014 enacted level.

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said in a March 4 statement that the proposed increase in categorical grants “recognizes the important work” being done by state and local agencies to ensure clean air.

Push for Additional Air Funding

Becker told Bloomberg BNA March 4 that the president's proposed additional funding for climate-relate programs is partially funded by decreased funding for other activities under the Clean Air Act. He noted that it is “not evident” in the budget documents, but the administration is proposing to cut more than $9 million from “core” air programs, including air monitoring and the collection of emissions data.

Those activities are “the foundation of state and local regulatory efforts,” according to Becker.

Becker said clean air agencies support the president's commitment to addressing climate change but do not support increased climate-related activity at the expense of the core elements of clean air programs.

NACAA called on the administration to provide an additional $35 million in funding for state implementation of those core monitoring and emissions data collection activities, which would be in addition to the increased funding for climate-related activities.

E-Manifest, Brownfields Funding

The proposed fiscal 2015 EPA budget would increase funding for numerous agency activities, including an additional $7 million to support the development of an electronic manifest system for electronic waste.

The budget request provides a total of $10.4 million within the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act waste management program to support the continued development of an electronic system to maintain information associated with hazardous waste shipments. The EPA estimates that the e-manifest program will reduce the combined annual reporting burden for more than 146,000 companies regulated under RCRA's hazardous waste provision by approximately $75 million.

The EPA's budget request also includes a total of $1.157 billion for the hazardous substance superfund program, an increase of $67.8 million compared with the fiscal 2014 enacted level. The budget request also requests an additional $3.3 million in funding for the leaking underground storage tanks program and an additional $5.9 million for the agency's inland oil spill programs, according to budget documents.

Support for Great Lake Restoration

The president's budget request proposes to reduce funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by $25 million compared to the fiscal 2014 enacted level.

McCarthy said the $275 million requested for Great Lakes restoration would allow for “great progress” in addressing priority cleanups and other priority activities. She said the proposed reduction represents does not indicate any lack of commitment by the administration in Great Lakes restoration, again noting that the EPA faced “difficult challenges” within the budget.

“I think the administration is very supportive of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” McCarthy said.

Beach, Radon Programs Targeted

McCarthy touted the budget proposal's targeted elimination of $56 million in programs that have served their purpose.

The EPA's budget request proposed to eliminate a beach monitoring grant, which was funded at a level of $9.5 million in fiscal 2014, and an indoor radon grant that was funded at a level of $8 million in fiscal 2014. The president's budget also proposes to eliminate the diesel emissions reduction grant program, which was funded at a level of $ 20 million in fiscal 2014.

Dunn of ACWA said that without the beach monitoring grant, states will be forced to reduce monitoring to the most “high-risk” beaches.

“This could result in a distorted picture of beach quality, as well as reduce protection for vulnerable beaches,” Dunn said.

The administration has unsuccessfully sought to eliminate the beach monitoring and radon grant programs and significantly reduce funding for the diesel emissions reduction grant program in past budget requests.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington at pambrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

A document highlighting the president's fiscal 2015 budget request for the EPA is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2015/assets/environmental.pdf.

The appendix for the EPA's fiscal 2015 budget request is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2015/assets/epa.pdf.

A detailed EPA document outlining the fiscal 2015 budget proposal is available at http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-03/documents/fy_2015_bib.pdf.

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