House and Senate conferees yesterday approved a $10.3 billion spending plan to fund U.S. EPA for fiscal 2010, a 36 percent boost over last year's levels.
Included in the conference report are significant boosts over fiscal 2009 for EPA programs to address climate change, drinking water and Great Lakes restoration.
The package also includes controversial measures that stalled negotiations over the spending bill, including two measures to limit EPA's regulatory authority over air emissions and another to impose wage requirements on federally funded water infrastructure projects (E&ENews PM, Oct. 27).
The rider from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) would exempt 13 steamships that operate on the Great Lakes from pending EPA regulations that set limits on the sulfur content of fuel used in internal U.S. waters and along U.S. coastlines. It would also allow EPA to extend waivers to certain ships if their operators show that they would otherwise go out of business, Obey said.
Obey's rider has drawn the ire of environmental groups and air regulators, who have cautioned that such a measure could disrupt pending international negotiations over shipping emissions.
"It's not something I necessarily desire," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. But she insisted that the negotiated language was carefully tailored to affect only a limited number of ships. Feinstein said she had also been contacted by Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, who supported the measure.
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the amendment raises serious questions. Large ships are responsible for a very high level of sulfur pollution, Lewis said, and "the language could disallow us to effectively deal with those problems, not just around the Great Lakes, but around our country and dealing with foreign-flagged ships as well."
Obey defended the amendment, saying he takes "a back seat to no one" when it comes to protecting the Great Lakes and all other environmental areas. "But the fact is that the EPA proposed regulation with respect to steamships has one inconvenient problem -- it would require steamships to use fuel which if they did use, would blow up the boilers. That could be a bit of a problem on Lake Superior or Lake Michigan."
Without this action, he said, the EPA regulations would put the Great Lakes states at an economic disadvantage.
The final conference report also includes an amendment from the House-passed bill to exempt manure management systems at factory farms for one year from an EPA rule requiring greenhouse gas emissions reporting. The amendment from Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) was included in the House-passed bill but had been removed from the conference report. The measure was later reinserted.
EPA finalized a rule last month to require about 10,000 facilities to begin to collect emissions data. The only agricultural sources that are required to report their emissions are manure management systems at livestock operations where greenhouse gas emissions meet or exceed the 25,000-ton limit. About 100 livestock operations meet that threshold, according to the agency.
Water, hazardous waste
The merged spending package represents a compromise between the $10.2 billion allotted in the Senate-passed bill and the $10.6 billion in the House version. Next it must win approval from both chambers before it heads to the White House for final approval. President Obama recommended $10.5 billion for EPA in his fiscal 2010 budget request.
The conference report contains an enormous boost for clean water projects, an issue that has enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both chambers. Conferees allotted the less generous Senate number of $3.6 billion to the line item, about $300 million less than the House approved but still more than double last year's funding level.
The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which finances local sewer improvements, garners $2.1 billion under the measure. The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund wins $1.38 billion, and the bill allots $157 million for direct water grants to communities.
The report includes a compromise provision that imposes Davis-Bacon wage requirements on state revolving funds for one year. The wage requirements -- which compel federal contractors to pay employees at least the area's prevailing wage -- were included in the House bill as a permanent measure but ran aground among Senate Republicans.
"If we accepted the House provision to make Davis-Bacon wage requirements permanent, we do not believe we would have the votes we need to pass the bill in the Senate," Feinstein told Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), one of two members who sponsored the amendment during the House committee markup.
"We had a lot of give and take," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. "I agreed to accept one year, and allow the appropriate authorizing committees to review it, and we can argue it out there."
The conference package awards $475 million to a major initiative to restore the Great Lakes, which matches the House-approved number and is $75 million more than the Senate included. The project aims to restore water quality in the world's largest freshwater system, which has been struggling with invasive species, pollution and contaminated sediment.
Hazardous waste and toxic site cleanup receives $1.5 billion in the bill, $200 million more than both the House and Senate approved in their separate packages and a $25 million boost from this year's level. The report awards $605 million for Superfund cleanup activities, $113 million for inspection and cleanup of leaks from underground storage tanks, and $100 million for Brownfields cleanup.
Climate change programs at EPA, the Interior Department and the Forest Service would receive $385 million under the conference report, a $155 million increase over 2009 levels.
At EPA, $21 million would be used to meet the requirement that the United States produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 and $17 million would go toward the agency's greenhouse gas registry.
The agency's Energy Star program would receive $51 million under the bill, and $10 million would be slated toward agency grants that encourage local communities to find ways to slash their greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill would allot $7 million for U.S. Geological Survey carbon sequestration research, $67 million for priority climate change research at USGS, and $15 million for the National Global Warming and Wildlife Science Center at USGS for wildlife adaptation to climate change.
Interior land management bureaus would receive $55 million for monitoring and adaptation programs in national parks, national wildlife refuges and other public lands. The bill would also slate $58 million to promoting the development of renewable energy sources on federal lands and waters.
The Forest Service would receive $32 million for climate change research -- an increase of $5 million over 2009.