APPROPRIATIONS:

House panel approves dip in EPA funding, increase for Interior, defeats climate riders

House appropriators yesterday approved a $32.2 billion spending bill for environmental agencies after Democrats defeated several proposals to limit federal regulation of greenhouse gases.

The Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously passed the measure to provide $11 billion for the Interior Department, $10 billion for U.S. EPA and $4.9 billion for the Forest Service.

The measure is "basically a flat budget," Chairman Jim Moran (D-Va.) said, providing exactly the same amount of overall funding as last year, but $133 million less than the White House requested.

Republicans on the subcommittee used the markup to attack EPA's new climate regulations.

One of three proposed amendments, which would have required a two-year timeout before regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources, came just one vote shy of passage. It deadlocked, 7-7, despite votes from Democratic Reps. Alan Mollohan of West Virginia and Ben Chandler of Kentucky and all the Republicans on the panel (E&ENews PM, July 22).

Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), the amendment's sponsor, criticized EPA's "arbitrary starting dates" for greenhouse gas regulations on stationary sources, saying the regulations would pick favorites and destroy jobs.

Moran opposed the rider, as well as the other two proposals, saying the appropriations process was an inappropriate way to try to address substantive policy issues.

"We don't have an option not to do something about clean air, energy and global warming. We've put it off for generations," Moran said. "This mandate on the part of EPA, it might spur that kind of comprehensive legislation. So, for any number of reasons, we would oppose the [amendment] but particularly because this is a major authorizing issue that -- as you know -- is being considered by the appropriate committees."

The other climate amendments, both of which were aimed at exempting specific industry sectors from the agency's greenhouse gas rules, garnered no support from Democrats and failed on 5-9 party-line votes.

A proposal from Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) would have excluded biomass combustion emissions from greenhouse gas regulations.

EPA is currently gathering more information on the issue, but forestry groups and renewable fuels proponents have opposed the agency's decision, saying that burning biomass is part of a natural cycle that adds no additional carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

Cole said the rule would "discourage the responsible development of renewable biomass," adding that the administration has not held itself to the same standard. In recent guidance, the White House Council on Environmental Quality told agencies that biomass would not be subject to federal goals as part of a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020 (E&ENews PM, July 15).

The same is true of rules on emissions from livestock production, said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the subcommittee's ranking member. He introduced a separate proposal seeking to block EPA from subjecting those farms from greenhouse gas rules.

Livestock production would be exempted from greenhouse gas regulations under the House-passed energy and climate bill, Simpson noted.

"Until Congress acts, we have a responsibility to continue to provide commonsense protection to farmers in our districts and our constituents who buy products at the supermarket," Simpson said. "I would also point out that these policies are really consistent with the guidelines published just last week by this administration regarding how the executive branch is going to report on and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, the administration exempts itself but regulates everybody else."

Budgetary bickering

Moran said the spending bill may disappoint those who wanted to see new initiatives proposed by the Obama administration, but that it is difficult to "fund new ideas" when the request does not adequately fund some existing programs.

"The first responsibility is the infrastructure that's already been created," Moran said.

Simpson said the agencies' budgets have seen large increases in recent years and that they can afford a "brief pause without missing a beat." Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee, offered an amendment to reduce all spending amounts by 1 percent, but it failed 5-9.

Although the subcommittee usually adopts a collegial tone, yesterday's markup started on an unusually sour note. Moran expressed anger that Republicans had "dumped" 16 amendments on the majority staff in the hour before the markup, not giving them time to analyze the measures or determine the dollar amounts they would alter.

"There have been no secret strategies," Moran said. "So I assumed things were going to go the way I had become accustomed to. ... That's not the way we should begin this markup."

Simpson said amendments are regularly delivered within hours of markups and said the majority of the amendments addressed specific issues that do not have costs. Moran replied that his staff was given more than three times what any other subcommittees received just before a markup.

Simpson said the amendments should not have come as a surprise because they were issues raised during hearings, but he apologized if Moran was "taken aback." He added, "If I had known you weren't going to smile, I would've brought a cupcake."

EPA funding

The committee approved just more than $10 billion in funding for U.S. EPA in fiscal 2011, a $2 million decrease from the administration's request and a $271 million decrease from the agency's funding for the current year.

Simpson criticized the proposal for EPA, which he described as the "favored child" of the committee's Democratic leadership.

He focused most of his criticism on funding for climate change programs. The subcommittee approved $455.5 million for climate change adaptation and science efforts in fiscal 2011, $9 million more than the White House requested and $91 million more than the agency was given for the current year and more than twice what the agency received for those programs in fiscal 2008.

"The EPA has wasted little time in using record budgets to impose new regulations that are at best ridiculous and at worst making it even more challenging for Americans to survive in an already fragile economy," Simpson said.

"I agree with the chairman that climate change is an issue we need to study carefully and know more about," he added. "But as I've asked before, what precisely is the problem we're trying to solve and how is it we will know if we have solved it? And what specifically have we learned from the billions we've already spent?"

Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said the recent increases in EPA's budget were not an expansion, but rather a rebound from the cuts made by the George W. Bush administration.

Funding levels for EPA programs include:

  • Science and technology programs would receive $855 million in fiscal 2011, $8 million more than requested by the Obama administration and $9 million more than they received for the current year.
  • Environmental programs and management would receive $2.92 billion, $30 million more than the White House requested but $72 million less than the programs received in 2010. Included in that total is $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, on par with the administration's request but down from $475 million for the current year.
  • Hazardous substances efforts, including the Superfund program, would receive $1.29 billion, the same amount requested by the administration but $13 million less than in the current budget.
  • The State and Tribal Assistance Grants program would receive $4.74 billion, $271 million less than for the current fiscal year and $40 million less than the administration requested.

The subcommittee unanimously passed an amendment from Simpson that directs the agency to exempt milk storage containers from pending regulations that could otherwise require some of the nation's 55,000 licensed dairies to develop plans that are mainly intended to prevent oil spills. Because of a technicality, critics have argued, milk containing animal fat would be treated the same as oil.

Legislation has also been introduced to address the issue, but EPA has not yet finalized the program that prompted the concerns (E&E Daily, May 28).

Other proposals considered yesterday were:

  • An amendment from LaTourette that would require EPA to update guidance on cities' financial capability to make changes to overflow-prone combined sewer systems. The proposal failed by a 5-9 party-line vote.
  • An amendment from LaTourette to bar EPA from putting its appropriations toward a notice on "false or misleading" brand names for pesticide products. The proposal was withdrawn.
  • An amendment from LaTourette that would prevent EPA from putting its appropriations toward its reconsideration of the federal air quality standard for ozone, which is expected to be released next month. The proposal failed by a 5-9 party-line vote.
  • An amendment from Simpson that would block EPA from using its appropriations to change the definition of "navigable waters" under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. The proposal failed by a 5-9 party-line vote.

Interior agencies, Forest Service

The bill would provide just more than $11 billion for the Interior Department, a $4 million increase over last year and $22 million more than Obama requested.

Moran said he "reluctantly accepted" the White House proposal not to provide boosts to cover fixed cost increases such as salaries, rent and utilities. That leaves the Interior Department to absorb $109 million and the Forest Service $40 million in fixed costs.

Moran said the amount was less than 1 percent of the overall budget and noted the economic stimulus package provided extra funding to the department and that Interior officials said the impact would be minimal.

"It will not be done again," Moran vowed. "It's not fair to the employees, to the people who have to maintain facilities. ... If you want the agency to run well, you've got to adequately fund its overhead."

Simpson objected, saying the fixed costs would mean 1,300 fewer Interior salaried positions in 2011 and 1,200 fewer Forest Service seasonal employees, resulting in reductions in programs and services at national parks and forests.

The bill would address some issues caused by the Gulf of Mexico disaster, adopting administration recommendations to temporarily suspend oil leasing or pre-leasing activities on the Pacific and North Atlantic coasts, and does the same for south and mid-Atlantic coasts while additional safety procedures and regulations are established, he said.

The measure also doubles the number of offshore inspectors to 130, paid for by raising industry inspection fees, Moran said.

But the committee has not yet received the administration's proposal for additional funding in the wake of the spill. The committee cannot "second guess" the administration and come up with numbers, Moran said.

The measure would provide $518 million for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, $68 million more than last year but $72 million less than the administration wanted. Moran said he could not agree to the White House amount when agencies already are strained. "We can't be acquiring land that we're not prepared to manage," he said.

The bill does not provide funding for a $42 million administration proposal to create national horse preserves. "We didn't think it was adequately thought out," Moran said.

The legislation restores money for congressional priorities that the administration had tried to slash, including Save America's Treasures, Heritage Area Partnerships, Preserve America, wildlife protection grants and others.

It provides nearly $3.3 billion for wildland fire management, including $1.6 billion for fire suppression. Because the fire season thus far "has not been as bad as some people expected," there should be $500 million carrying over to 2011 from prior years, Moran said. But if the fire season "takes a turn for the worse," lawmakers will re-evaluate the bill's amounts, he added.

The legislation includes suppression funding in a congressionally created FLAME account but does not create an administration-requested contingency reserve fund, which Moran said was not justified and would be duplicative.

Specifically, the bill would provide nearly $2.1 billion to the Forest Service for wildland fire management, a decrease of $17 million from last year but a boost of $15 million over the White House request. Interior would receive $795 million for wildland fire, the same as last year and a $32 million increase from Obama's request. The Forest Service would also receive more than $2.8 billion in non-fire funding, $39 million more than last year and $88 million more than the administration request.

Simpson strongly objected to a "legislative rider" that would have allowed the permanent, voluntary termination of grazing permits in the West. Simpson said the measure would have far-reaching negative economic impacts on Western communities and would "reignite a divisive war on the West."

But he and Moran agreed on an amendment, which passed 13-1, to keep current policy in place for fiscal 2011 while they work on the issue with Interior and Agriculture departments.

The committee unanimously accepted an amendment from Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) commissioning a Government Accountability Office study on the sometimes conflicting missions of Interior, the Forest Service and the Homeland Security department on border lands and continuing existing law that prohibits funding to impede Homeland Security activities on public lands with respect to immigration.

Funding levels for Interior agencies include:

  • The Bureau of Land Management would receive $1.1 billion, a $26 million decrease from last year and $23 million less than Obama requested.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service would receive $1.6 billion, $5 million less than last year and $1 million less than the White House request.
  • The National Park Service would receive almost $2.8 billion, a $21 million increase from last year and $36 million more than the presidential request.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey would receive nearly $1.2 billion, $39 million more than last year and $17 million over the White House request.
  • The new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement would receive $152 million, $16 million more than last year and $4 million more than Obama requested.
  • The Office of Surface Mining would receive $157 million, $6 million less than last year but $11 million more than Obama requested.

Click here to read the summary table.

Click here to read a list of earmarks in the bill.