APPROPRIATIONS:

House panel provides $84M boost for EPA

U.S. EPA would see its funding jump by about $80 million above President Obama's budget request in a bill cleared today by House environmental appropriators.

The legislation would fund the agency at $10.6 billion -- $84 million beyond Obama's recommendation and nearly $3 billion more than its current funding level of $7.6 billion. The House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee voted unanimously to refer the bill to the full committee.

Overall, the combined spending measure requests $32.3 billion for EPA, the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service -- $25 million less than the president requested. The overall budget would still boost environmental agencies' spending by $4.7 billion, or 17 percent, over fiscal 2009 levels.

"During the previous administration, the programs and activities funded by this subcommittee really suffered," Chairman Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said. "Now we are beginning to address major shortfalls and invest in America's environment."

EPA's environmental programs and management would see a boost of $81 million beyond Obama's request under the House spending bill, and science and technology programs would receive an additional $8 million. State and tribal assistance grants would increase by $24 million under the House budget request.

Subcommittee Republicans praised their Democratic colleagues' handling of the bill, but they questioned the massive spending increases amid the economic downturn.

"We are making rapid investments in water, climate change, renewable energy and other areas -- all of them worthy endeavors -- but with relatively little planning and coordination among multiple agencies and the rest of government," the ranking Republican, Idaho's Mike Simpson, said.

Simpson added that he was troubled by the "unsustainable pattern of spending" in the bill, given uncertain economic conditions. "For any perceived or real inadequacies of past policies or budget," he said, "it would be a mistake for any of us to believe that we can simply spend our way to a solution for every challenge facing this subcommittee."

Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, cited similar concerns about the bill's overall costs.

"Providing a 17 percent overall increase in funding -- and an astonishing 38 percent increase for the EPA -- when our country is experiencing the worst economic situation in decades is not a responsible way to govern," Lewis said in a statement. "We must hold the line on spending and make budget choices that are sustainable and that do not rely on continued deficits and borrowing."

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) defended the legislation, saying the larger budget would result in job creation and go toward programs that have been starved for years.

"I make no apology for the role that this bill plays in trying to help put this country back to work at the same time that we take care of woefully long negligence that has reflected in areas such as ... clean water and in, yes, in areas including climate change," Obey said.

The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the Interior-Environment spending bill Thursday, June 18, a committee aide said.

Climate funding gets boost

The subcommittee's bill includes $419 million for climate change adaptation and scientific efforts, Dicks said. That amount is $24 million above Obama's budget and $189 million above the fiscal 2009 level.

House lawmakers included $21 million for EPA to address the requirement that the United States produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022, Dicks said. The bill also includes $10 million for grants to help local governments combat climate change, funding that was not included in the president's proposal.

In line with Obama's request, the bill slates $17 million toward funding a greenhouse gas registry that would establish a comprehensive federal reporting system for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions. Such a program is widely viewed as a critical step toward implementing federal climate change regulations.

Beyond EPA, the bill would include $67 million for priority climate research at the U.S. Geological Survey, $80 million for climate change planning and conservation efforts at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and $31 million for climate change adaptation programs at the Bureau of Land Management, Park Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dicks said.

House appropriators also requested $60 million for grants to clean up diesel emissions, the same amount included in the president's budget.

Water infrastructure

The subcommittee left intact Obama's request for a massive increase in water infrastructure funding, more than doubling fiscal 2009 levels.

The bill allocates $3.9 billion to the projects, divided among the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and State and Tribal Assistance Grants -- up from $1.5 billion for such measures last year, in a reflection of growing bipartisan support for the local and regional projects.

The bill allows states to distribute 30 percent of the clean water and drinking water funds -- after the first $1 billion is disbursed -- as subsidies rather than conventional loans, a 5 percent boost in such grants from the levels in the authorizing legislation.

"This subcommittee received more than 1,200 requests from members of Congress for infrastructure grants," Dicks said. "American communities are screaming for a more affordable way to provide clean and safe water."

Great water bodies would receive $667 million under the measure, $89 million above the president's request and a $544 million increase from last year. Much of that money would go to the Great Lakes, which is tapped to receive $475 million for a major restoration initiative.

The report language directs EPA to develop an "action agenda" as part of a plan to rehabilitate the lakes that the agency is scheduled to release in 2011, Dicks said.

"We want ... a plan that will lead to the recovery of the Great Lakes, and we want it to be independently, scientifically verified by an outside group of experts," he said. Previous efforts to restore the lakes and the Chesapeake Bay failed, he said, because of a "failure of accountability."

The lakes funding also has drawn bipartisan support from lawmakers who hail from the region, including Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), who applauded the funding boost at this morning's markup.

EPA's Superfund program would see a $2 million decline from Obama's request in the subcommittee's proposal.

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