The House Appropriations subcommittee chairman charged with funding U.S. EPA and the Interior Department yesterday said he will seek input from the agencies on how to slash billions of dollars from their fiscal 2012 budgets.
House appropriators this week released their proposed spending levels for the 12 annual appropriations bills, and the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), was allotted $27.5 billion for the agencies it funds. This represents a $2 billion reduction compared with enacted levels, and nearly $4 billion less than the president requested for EPA, Interior and other related agencies.
Simpson said he was not surprised his subcommittee will be working with a tight budget when it writes its spending bill this spring and summer. "I knew it was going to be down there somewhere," he said.
He said the committee and staff will spend the next few weeks asking the agencies for their input on how to cut money from their budgets in the least disruptive way possible.
"We go to them and say, 'Which ones will be least impactful?' That doesn't mean they agree with what we do, but if I'm going to cut $200 million from the Forest Service," he said, giving a hypothetical example, "I'm going to ask the Forest Service, 'Where can you absorb those cuts with the least harm?'"
"We'll do kind of a hypothetical budget," Simpson said. He added that the subcommittee will likely mark up its bill in July.
Simpson said he "wouldn't be surprised" if many of the reductions came from EPA's regulatory programs, such as the ones tasked with curbing carbon dioxide and other industrial emissions.
But Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the subcommittee's top Democrat, said regulatory programs could hardly contribute much to the cuts proposed by the Republican majority.
"Regulation programs don't cost much at all. That's just administrative people for EPA. That doesn't save any money," Moran said.
The largest budgets at EPA and Interior are for infrastructure programs like the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provide inexpensive financing to states for water and sewer projects.
"That's where the big money is," he said. "So it will come out of governors' pockets, if that's what they want to do. And most of the governors are Republicans."
But Moran was doubtful the cuts would create a voter backlash against congressional Republicans if municipal water projects stall.
"I think voters generally don't notice projects, because you know they're not visible," Moran said. "They see people dig and they don't know what they're digging. But it's terribly important."
Moran agreed with Simpson that it makes sense to consult affected agencies when making spending decisions but said that would not prevent the bill from doing real harm to vital programs.
"You're sort of asking, 'What child shall we take?'" he said. "It's going to be hard for the agencies to pick and choose what to sacrifice."
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that while he had not looked at the appropriations allocations, he suspected Republicans would seek to punish regulatory agencies.
"I know that Republicans have declared war on the EPA and the idea of a government in the first place that does anything to protect the health and welfare and environment of the American people," he said, adding that drastic cuts to the EPA's budget would impede its ability to do its job.