Budget deal slams state, regional programs

The spending deal brokered last week by President Obama and Congress to avert a government shutdown would balance most its $1.6 billion in cuts to U.S. EPA's budget on the backs of state regulators and local environmental projects, according to details of the bill that were released by appropriators early this morning.

Three-quarters of the cuts, totaling $1.19 billion, would come from State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG), which mainly fund water infrastructure upgrades and state plans to comply with new federal rules. That includes a $997 million cut from a pair of revolving funds that finance local drinking water projects and efforts to clean up polluted bodies of water.

With total funding of $3.77 billion, the STAG programs make up less than half of EPA's $8.7 billion budget under the pact. Though the president proposed a similar cut to the revolving funds in his fiscal 2012 budget request, his pact with Republicans would now pull funding for the water infrastructure projects a year early.

The budget deal also includes a $191 million cut to regional programs, such as Obama's own Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Those programs would now get almost exactly as much as Obama requested this year for projects in the Great Lakes, as well as the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound.

Those cuts, along with a plan to rescind $140 million of unobligated grants from the STAG program, will be a blow to state agencies that are limping due to years of state budget cutbacks, said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. The spending deal also rejects the administration's request for an extra $82 million in grants to help states implement new air pollution rules from EPA, and cuts another $10 million on top of that, he said.


Becker said it's "disconcerting" that many lawmakers want to shrink the federal government, but they are doing it by taking most of the money away from state and local agencies. For example, the spending deal zeroes out a $20 million program meant to cut air pollution in smog-choked areas of Southern California.

It isn't fair that "Congress asks the states to carry out the will of these environmental statutes, and then savages the funding required to do these tasks," Becker said. "We're trying to do the job that Congress asked us to do."

While the cuts to EPA grant programs were mostly in line with the president's request for next year, the deal goes after the agency's own efforts by taking money from EPA scientists and the offices that design the agency's regulations. Scientific programs would get $815 million, down $42 million from fiscal 2010, and environmental programs would end up with $2.76 billion, down 8.8 percent from last year.

That was a key demand for Republicans such as House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, who framed the spending deal today as a a way to "rein in out-of-control federal bureaucracies."

Climate change work by EPA and the Interior Department, which were House Republicans' main target on the environmental front, would end up with $49 million less than last year, leaving them $116 million below the president's request for fiscal 2011. But the programs would be allowed to continue, since the House-approved "riders" to stop greenhouse gas regulations and reporting rules were stripped from the bill.

The compromise also takes a slice out of EPA's budget for its hazardous waste cleanup program. The legislation would chop roughly $23 million from the Superfund budget, reducing it from $1.31 billion to $1.28 billion for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The cut isn't likely to significantly affect the day-to-day operation of the program, which is charged with the cleanup of nearly 1,300 hazardous waste sites across the country. And it wasn't much to give away for President Obama, who asked for $1.24 billion for the program in his budget request for fiscal 2012 (Greenwire, Feb. 14).

Superfund's annual budget has typically ranged between $1 billion and $1.3 billion since it was created in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980.

Reporter Jeremy P. Jacobs contributed.

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