EPA:

Omnibus would force action on Calif. waiver, increase spending

House Democrats today floated a fiscal 2009 budget for U.S. EPA that would give the Obama administration a strict deadline for acting on California's request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

President Obama last month ordered U.S. EPA to re-evaluate California's waiver request, which the Bush administration had denied. The omnibus spending bill released today would give EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson until June 30 to make a final decision.

David Bookbinder, Sierra Club's chief climate counsel, said he expects Jackson to act before the deadline. "I imagine that she'll get it done before then and I'm not sure I see the need for Congress to put that in there," he said.

If EPA grants the California waiver, a number of other states are set to adopt California's standards. Thirteen states have moved to adopt them already, while another four said they will follow if the waiver is granted. The 18 states represent about half of the U.S. auto market (Greenwire, Feb. 4).

Overall, the omnibus bill would increase EPA's funding to an estimated $7.6 billion, a $174 million increase from fiscal 2008. The proposed increase arrives after a drawn-out battle between Democrats and the Bush administration over agency funding last year and would augment the $7.2 billion EPA received in the economic stimulus package.

Funding for EPA's clean water and drinking water infrastructure funds would remain stable at fiscal 2008 levels. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a low-interest wastewater loan program that helps states construct water treatment facilities, would receive $689 million, while the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund would garner $829 million.

Both programs, which were frequently targeted for budget cuts by the Bush administration, already have received a massive infusion of cash from the economic stimulus package. The Clean Water State Revolving Fund received $4 billion, and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund received $2 billion.

The fiscal 2009 omnibus also includes $145 million for state and tribal assistance grants funding water infrastructure projects. Another $154 million would go toward restoring and protecting water bodies including the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and Chesapeake Bay.

Democrats said the House plan also raises funding for Superfund and brownfields cleanup by $22 million compared with fiscal 2008. The bill provides $605 million for Superfund cleanups and $97 million for brownfields. Another $112 million would help clean up underground toxic spills. In general, cash for the Superfund program would increase slightly. The program would receive nearly $1.3 billion under the fiscal 2009 proposal, rising about $31 million from fiscal 2008.

Funding for EPA's inspector general would increase as well. The bill provides nearly $45 million for the office, up from $41 million in fiscal 2008. Money for oil spill response would remain relatively constant at about $18 million.

House proposes funding boosts for climate change, clean air programs

Climate change and clean air programs sponsored by EPA and other agencies also would benefit under the House proposal. The bill includes $232 million -- $39 million above fiscal 2008 -- for programs that address climate change, according to the House Appropriations Committee.

That funding would include $68 million for priority climate change research at the U.S. Geological Survey and $16 million to implement the Energy Independence and Security Act, which includes $10 million to meet its requirement that the United States produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022 and $3 million for carbon sequestration research at USGS.

The climate funding also would include $50 million for EPA's Energy Star program, $10 million for EPA grants to encourage local communities to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and $6.5 million to continue development of a greenhouse gas registry.

Lawmakers last year slammed the Bush White House for failing to include money for the greenhouse gas registry in the fiscal 2009 budget proposal issued by the White House (Greenwire, Feb. 5, 2008). Environmentalists and lawmakers have called the registry an important step toward understanding baseline carbon emissions and moving toward a federal program to curb emissions.

The House package requests $224 million for state grants to implement the Clean Air Act, $7.2 million more than last year. The House also requests $60 million, an $11 million boost over fiscal 2008, for grants to reduce diesel engine emissions.

Bill would vacate chemical emissions reporting rule

The bill also would essentially nullify an EPA rule that relaxed certain reporting requirements for a program that requires companies to report their annual chemical emissions to local communities.

The Toxics Release Inventory, which was established in 1986, requires that nearly 24,000 facilities run by chemical makers, steel mills and various manufacturers across the country submit annual detailed reports on the amounts of some 650 chemicals they release into the air, land and water.

EPA in 2006 issued a final rule raising the threshold for detailed reporting from 500 pounds to 5,000 pounds per chemical handled by a facility annually. This has resulted in more than 3,500 facilities that no longer report detailed information about their toxic chemical releases and waste management practices, according to a 2007 Government Accountability Office report.

Thirteen states filed a 2007 lawsuit claiming that EPA acted illegally in issuing the final rule and have asked the court to vacate it because they say it falls under a community's right to know about environmental pollutants being released into their communities.

Today's bill would do just that. It says that EPA may not use any of the funds issued in the appropriations to cover the rule, and it states that the final rule "shall have no force or effect," restoring the law to the way it was before the 2006 rule.

Click here to view the Interior/EPA section of the omnibus bill.

Click here to view the Interior/EPA report language.