The leader of the House appropriations panel that oversees U.S. EPA's budget said he would support additional funding for efforts to spur "civic activism" on environmental issues, including climate change.
Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, met with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and other agency leaders today to discuss the Gulf spill response, outreach programs and other agency initiatives. Moran also hosted a town hall session at EPA headquarters, where he said authoritative science and outreach efforts are key to environmental protection.
The Obama administration has recommended $10 billion for EPA in fiscal 2011, a $300 million cut. House and Senate appropriators have not moved on budgets for the agency, which received about $2.7 billion more this year than it did at the end of President George W. Bush's presidency.
"We want to see that increase continue, and as long as EPA stands up and speaks out on behalf of the American public, it will increase," Moran said. "One of the things we were talking about with Administrator Jackson, who said she feels very strongly about this, is EPA needs to have the ability -- to be given the ability -- to outreach more to communities."
Moran said he does not expect a price on carbon to emerge from energy and climate legislation on Capitol Hill this year, making it more urgent that the public understand EPA's work on greenhouse gas regulations.
He referred in particular to the agency's "tailoring" rule, which would limit the number of stationary sources that would be subject to regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. Moran said the recently finalized rule, which would affect the "worst sources of pollution" rather than small businesses, would have wide public support if people knew about it.
"A lot of Congress doesn't even have any idea. They don't realize that it's a very substantial compromise," Moran said. "That kind of information needs to get out, and you have that information. You need to be empowered to get it out, and we have a receptive leadership now that hopefully will give you the means to do so. I don't think the American people wholly understand what's at stake."
Just as health-focused campaigns against smoking led to a steep decline in cigarette use, outreach efforts could produce a new generation of voters who care more about issues such as polluted water, toxic chemicals or climate change, Moran said.
As an example, he pointed to a Northern Virginia program that enables elementary schools to test for for chemicals in nearby bodies of water, teaching students about pollution in the process.
"Even more than federal agencies committed to protecting and preserving our environment, what scares some of the big polluters and the big extraction industries, and so on, is civic activism," he said. "They'll pay millions to try to suppress that, but you can't suppress it, and there's no country in the world that has a stronger capability for civic activism than the United States. We just need to inform them and mobilize them."
Moran's visit was part of an effort to learn about the agencies within the purview of his subcommittee, spokeswoman Emily Blout said. Chosen as head of the panel in March after previous Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) moved to the Defense subcommittee, Moran intends to hold similar meetings with officials from the Interior Department.
A major fight over EPA regulations would likely arise during the appropriations process one way or the other, meaning the agency's budget may end up being folded into an omnibus package. The subcommittee may not mark up an appropriations bill this year, Moran has said.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the subcommittee's ranking member, said last month that he was "not real optimistic" about the prospect of a markup (E&E Daily, June 10).
Outreach or 'propaganda'?
During the town hall meeting, Jackson pointed to several examples of outreach at EPA, referring in particular to the agency's "livability" and environmental justice initiatives. She said she also intends to expand outreach on the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, using the Internet and other technology to make more environmental information available at the local and neighborhood levels.
While those sorts of programs would face limited opposition, additional climate change outreach efforts would be a particularly hard sell. When the issue is a political minefield like climate change, political opponents often criticize outreach initiatives, claiming federal agencies should not spend taxpayer money on what are essentially advertising campaigns for the administration's chosen policy.
Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market advocacy group, said education and outreach campaigns may be used to skirt restrictions on lobbying by federal agencies. On the issue of greenhouse gas regulations, EPA would be particularly prone to "scare tactics" and "propaganda," he said.
"There is some kind of line between simply explaining what you're doing so that the public you're trying to serve can see the benefit of what you're doing, and building a clientele and a constituency to put pressure on Congress," Lewis said. "Whatever opinion you may have on climate change, there is no shortage of information available to the public today. What is EPA going to say beyond what it's already said in its endangerment rule? I don't think you have to do things like scare kids in school so that they come home and lobby their parents."
At one point during the town hall meeting, Jackson interjected to remind officials in attendance about the Hatch Act, a 1939 statute that bars civil servants from taking part in partisan activity.
"As much as we care about those issues, because of the Hatch Act, you don't lobby on those issues," Jackson said.
"Oh yeah, the old Hatch Act. Oh yeah. I forgot to mention it," Moran replied.