EPA

Climate policy intact though agency funding stays flat

The omnibus fiscal 2016 spending deal unveiled by congressional leaders last night would allow the Obama administration to go forward with a key international climate policy while keeping U.S. EPA's budget level.

The bill would not explicitly prohibit the United States from funding the Green Climate Fund, a U.N.-launched fund to provide developing countries with money to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and address the effects of warming.

EPA would receive $8.1 billion, with the Superfund program also remaining stable and state revolving funds for water and sewer construction projects absorbing a slight cut.

While decrying congressional leaders' lifting of the 40-year-old crude oil ban, environmentalists are celebrating the decision to exclude a rider barring funding for the GCF, as well as other riders aimed at EPA programs.

"We're not celebrating something that happened," said Karen Orenstein, senior international policy analyst at Friends of the Earth. "We're celebrating something that didn't happen."

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Climate funding

Last year, President Obama promised the international community ahead of the recently completed climate talks in Paris that the United States would provide $3 billion over four years for the Green Climate Fund. The president's fiscal 2016 request would have provided $500 million toward that total.

As the Obama administration headed to Paris to negotiate the new climate change agreement, congressional Republicans warned that they would exercise the "power of the purse" and seek to block the international climate aid.

While it did not directly appropriate money for the fund, the $1.1 trillion spending deal agreed to by congressional leaders early this morning -- just days after nations agreed to a historic climate deal in Paris -- would allow the Obama administration to use discretionary funding for its share of the GCF.

"This is a rebuke to those congressional extremists who tried to play politics with desperately needed money to help the world's poor take climate action," Orenstein said. "Morality and reason, rather than science-denying isolationism, prevailed in this case."

Orenstein said she would not rule out a scenario in which the administration provides its full $500 million request but said that the actual amount will remain unknown for some time. The most likely pot of money for the Green Climate Fund is the State Department's Economic Support Fund, Orenstein said.

According to policy consultant Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton administration climate adviser, the deal's extension of wind and solar tax credits moreover represents the "first new policy helping to achieve the U.S. emissions targets made in Paris."

"This budget and tax deal shows that despite the partisan rhetorical firebombs on climate," Bledsoe said, "the transition toward a lower-emissions U.S. energy economy has become a business and investor reality which members of Congress on both sides must respond to."

Conservative organization Heritage Action for America today characterized a vote for the omnibus as a vote for the Paris climate deal and urged members of Congress to oppose the deal in a "key vote" alert.

"The bill does not explicitly prohibit the administration from funding the Green Climate Fund, which was seen as a major priority for the left on the heels of the recent Paris agreement," Heritage Action for America said in the alert.

The omnibus would provide about $171 million to the Clean Technology Fund and $50 million to the Strategic Climate Fund, two World Bank funds. Because those funds are due to soon sunset, it's possible that some of the money in those funds will shift to the Green Climate Fund.

The spending deal would also provide $168 million to the Global Environment Facility, which provides grants and financing for climate projects. It would allow the United States to contribute up to $10 million to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Congressional leaders, however, did not provide the Obama administration with several key climate asks, including a new infrastructure fund to benefit states that go above and beyond complying with the Clean Power Plan. The White House had requested $4 billion in addition to its proposed discretionary budget for the program. EPA had also requested additional grant money to help states write Clean Power Plan implementation strategies.

The omnibus would also bar any funding from being used to pay the salary and expenses of the position of assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Obama would be required to provide a comprehensive report to Congress on all government funding for climate change 120 days after the administration submits its fiscal 2017 budget request.

EPA

For fiscal 2016, Obama had proposed giving EPA its first overall budget increase in several years.

In that request, Obama had asked lawmakers to give EPA about a 6 percent increase to almost $8.6 billion in comparison with the preceding year. Under that umbrella, environmental programs and management would have risen from $2.6 billion to $2.8 billion; Superfund spending would have climbed slightly to $1.15 billion; and state and tribal assistance grants would have gotten a small boost from $3.55 billion to $3.6 billion.

Instead, the omnibus bill released last night would keep the Superfund approximately at last year's $1.09 billion benchmark, while state and tribal assistance grants would be pared to $3.52 billion. Environmental programs and management would remain at $2.6 billion. In opting to nick the popular Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds by about 1 percent to $2.3 billion, the bill follows the White House's request.

In a summary, the House Appropriations Committee touted the legislation for keeping EPA's budget below its fiscal 2010 threshold and noted that the size of the agency's workforce is at its lowest level since 1989.

For Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Northern Virginia Democrat whose district includes a heavy share of federal workers, that austere approach has left him undecided on whether to support the bill.

"Unfortunately, the Republican majority continues to disinvest in personnel and resources in agencies they philosophically don't like," Connolly told reporters this morning, mentioning EPA, the IRS and other regulatory bodies. "We ought not to be running government that way. These are established agencies, and they need to be funded adequately. We've been starving both of them, and regulatory bodies, for the entire time they've been in the majority."

House and Senate appropriators bucked Obama's attempts to trim spending on the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The White House had sought to cut DERA from $30 million in fiscal 2015 to $10 million; the bill would boost funding to $50 million. The measure would also keep funding for the Great Lakes program stable at $300 million; Obama had proposed paring funding to $250 million.

According to the Appropriations Committee summary, other provisions would:

  • Bar EPA from regulating lead content in ammunition or fishing tackle;
  • Exempt livestock producers from greenhouse gas regulations;
  • And strengthen congressional oversight of the agency's review of mining permits.

In a reminder of the continuing fallout from the August spill at the Gold King mine in Colorado, EPA will have to work with affected states and tribes to develop "a robust, long-term plan for independent monitoring," according to a report accompanying the omnibus measure. And in the wake of the Government Accountability Office's conclusion this week that EPA officials broke the law in attempting to drum up support for the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule (E&ENews PM, Dec. 14), the agency must work with the Office of Management and Budget to make sure that the GAO findings are distributed to communications offices governmentwide.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.

Twitter: @apeterka Email: areilly@eenews.net

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