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Feb. 2 — President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2016 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency includes its first staffing increase in five years and a $451.8 million increase in funding from the prior fiscal year.
The president's Feb. 2 proposed spending plan would return EPA funding to levels from before the sequestration cuts were enacted in FY 2013. However, his small proposed increase in personnel would barely make a dent toward restoring staffing levels to the agency's earlier highs.
For the first time in the his presidency, Obama's annual budget proposal now heads to a Congress in which both chambers are controlled by Republicans, many of whom are deeply skeptical about his priorities on the environment and other issues.
“I don’t have a lot of hope that we’re going to be getting any of this,” Karen Kellen, president of the largest union representing EPA employees, told Bloomberg BNA.
The budget request also reflects an emphasis on reducing carbon emissions with $4 billion marked for incentives for states that exceed the requirements of the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan.
The number of full-time equivalent positions, or FTEs, at the EPA has been declining every year since FY 2011, when the total was 17,494.
Although the president's budget request would represent the first increase since then, it puts staffing levels at 15,373, a less than 1 percent increase from FY 2015.
Most of the new FTEs would support regional air programs, including the processing of state implementation plans. The additional employees also would address air permitting needs and air quality monitoring and analysis, the EPA said
Although the EPA has shown it can reduce staffing, “what we’ve never seen from the agency is a coherent or any strategy for how we disinvest from some areas,” Kellen said. “We have fewer employees with no less work to do. … You just can’t do the work of 17,000 people with 15,000.”
Stan Meiburg, EPA acting deputy administrator, acknowledged the staffing decline in a Feb. 2 news conference but said the agency has responded by streamlining its processes to operate as efficiently as possible.
One notable measure within the president's budget request is a line item to spend up to $4 billion to incentivize states to exceed the requirements of the administration's proposed Clean Power Plan, which is expected to be finalized this summer.
“What we’ll be looking for are states that are developing plans earlier than the final guidelines require or seem to go further than final guidelines require,” Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for air and radiation, said in a news conference Feb. 2. “This is something that any state could consider doing.”
Environmental advocates praised the fund but cautioned it wouldn't be sufficient to replace strong federal standards for power plants. Some feared it could provide the EPA with an excuse not to strengthen the carbon dioxide emissions rates in its Clean Power Plan.
“Voluntary programs are fine. That’s good. But we don’t want them to take the place of regulations that we all know are feasible,” Vera Pardee, senior attorney in the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 2.
The EPA's budget request would increase funding for grants to support state and local air quality management programs. That categorical grant program would receive $268.2 million under the budget request, a $40 million increase from the FY 2015 level of $228.2 million.
States would receive an additional $25 million in air quality management grants to help with implementation of the Clean Power Plan, with the remaining $15 million allocated to carrying out core air quality activities, the EPA said.
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said it would have been politically wiser to lump these two sources of funding together and let states decide how to use them.
“If [a lawmaker] is concerned about appropriating any money earmarked for climate … make it more flexible,” Becker told Bloomberg BNA. “Instead of $25 million and $15 million, make it $40 million for everything.”
The agency again proposed to cut funding for grants awarded under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, commonly known as the DERA program. That program, which funds projects that aim to reduce air pollution from diesel engines in buses, heavy-duty trucks and other vehicles, received $30 million in funding in FY 2015 but would only receive $10 million under the president's request.
The Obama administration proposed to eliminate all funding for the DERA program in its FY 2012, 2013 and 2015 budgets and proposed to fund the DERA program at a level of $6 million in its FY 2014 request. Congress has routinely rejected these proposed cuts.
Frank O'Donnell, president of the nonprofit Clean Air Watch, criticized the proposed reduction in DERA funding.
O'Donnell said in a Feb. 2 tweet that the proposed cut is a “ridiculous signal to send” in the wake of a January study released by the Health Effects Institute that found no evidence of increased risk of lung cancer associated with exposure from cleaner diesel engines that meet model year 2007 EPA emissions standards for particulate matter.
The EPA wasn't the only agency for which Obama proposed significant levels of funding to address environmental issues.
He requested $500 million in FY 2016 for the Green Climate Fund, essentially a down-payment toward the $3 billion the U.S. has pledged to aid developing nations’ efforts to address climate change. Most of that $500 million request, $350 million, would be appropriated through the State Department’s budget, with the remaining $150 million provided by the Treasury Department.
The total U.S. pledge of $3 billion to the international fund is to be provided over four years. An administration official said the U.S. “expects to be ramping up” that amount over the next three years to make good on its total pledge.
More than $10 billion has been pledged to the green fund, mostly from developed nations, in part to persuade poorer nations to sign onto a global climate accord in Paris at the end of this year.
The Green Climate Fund is part of a broader pool of climate finance pledged by U.S. and other industrialized nations. These nations committed to ramping up climate aid to $100 billion a year—coming from private and public sources—beginning in 2020, the year the climate accord would enter into force.
Obama is requesting a total of $1.3 billion for a broad range of climate programs, known as the Global Climate Change Initiative, which funds programs ranging from those promoting clean energy, sustainable land use and improved adaptation to rising sea level and other climate impacts.
The GCC request would ensure the U.S. “continues to assist developing countries to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change and speed their transition to climate resilient, low emission, sustainable economic growth, while slowing the pace of greenhouse gas emissions,” said the State Department’s congressional budget justification detailing its FY 2016 request.
Other climate-related FY 2016 requests include a $59.6 million request for the Strategic Climate Fund, a $9.7 million increase above estimated FY 2015 levels. That climate fund is one of several administered by multilateral development banks to support pilot projects that address climate change.
Obama also is requesting $170.7 million for the Clean Technology Fund, a $13.9 million increase over estimated FY 2015 levels; and a $168.3 million contribution to the Global Environment Facility, a $31.7 million increase over estimated FY 2015 levels. The budget also requests $11.7 million to support both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the climate science arm of the United Nations, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which oversees the international negotiations toward a global climate accord.
That $11.7 million request would be a $1.7 million increase over actual FY 2014 funding for those efforts; the State Department’s budget justification doesn't provide an estimate for FY 2015 funding.
The EPA is seeking a $7.6 million increase in FY 2016 for its chemicals and pesticide offices.
While the pesticides office would receive a nearly $12 million boost, the chemicals office and science coordination office that oversees the endocrine program would face cuts if the president's budget were approved as submitted.
The Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, which includes the chemicals, pesticides and science coordination offices, also are proposing to cut full time staff by eliminating about 12 positions.
The president's budget request for FY 2016 included $238.6 million for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. That total would be a $7.6 million increase over the $231 million the agency received in FY 2015, according to the Congressional Justification the agency released Feb. 2.
Under the requested budget:
• The Office of Pesticide Programs would receive $103.4 million, a nearly $12 million boost above the $91.9 million it received in FY 2015;
• The Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics would receive $70 million, about $10 million less than it received in FY 2015; and
• The Office of Science Coordination and Policy, which helps to manage the endocrine program, would receive $6.1 million, a $2.9 million decrease from its $9 million appropriations in FY 2015.
The OCSPP would increase by about $500,000 the budget provided to help regions address chemical, pesticide and pollution prevention issues.
The budget proposal seeks relatively small amounts of additional funding for the Superfund program.
The Superfund Remedial program is slated for a 7.7 percent increase above FY 2015, representing $38.6 million that would be used to fund ongoing and new cleanup projects at contaminated sites. The budget contains an additional $9.4 million for the Superfund Emergency Response and Removal program above the current level, a 5.2 percent increase, to quickly respond to hazardous contamination emergencies.
The EPA also hopes to expand the brownfields program from its $80 million budget in FY 2015 to $110 million, a 37.5 percent increase. Of the extra $30 million, $5 million would go to fund area planning grants and $6.9 million to the Revolving Loan Fund, both of which fund community efforts to create and implement plans to clean up and revitalize brownfields. The remaining $18.1 million would fund other grants supporting assessment and clean-up activities.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at firstname.lastname@example.org
The president's full proposed budget for the EPA for fiscal year 2016 is available at http://www2.epa.gov/planandbudget/fy2016.
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