Obama proposal trims agency spending by $300M

The Obama administration today recommended trimming U.S. EPA's fiscal 2011 budget from last year's record spending.

President Obama's proposal would provide $10 billion to EPA, cutting the agency's total funding by about $300 million from the $10.3 billion fiscal 2010 levels.

Following the White House announcement last week that the administration planned to freeze non-military, discretionary spending over the next three years, observers said they expected EPA's budget to remain stagnant or see slight reductions. Obama's request is substantially higher than what EPA received under President George W. Bush's administration, when the agency's budget hovered around $7.5 billion for several years.

"A modest budget cut is a disappointment, of course, but we are living in challenging economic times, so I think it's fairly understandable," said John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"I don't think it will have a significant impact," said Jeff Holmstead, an industry attorney and former EPA air chief during the George W. Bush administration. "EPA has been used to operating under much lower budgets for years and years."


Obama's plan would trim EPA's operating budget slightly, from $3.9 billion in fiscal 2011 to $3.8 billion.

Eric Schaeffer, director of the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, said that drop is noteworthy in part because the agency is required to pay cost-of-living increases to its employees.

Even if EPA's budget were constant, "EPA has to take about a 2 percent to 3 percent hit, depending on what the cost of living increase is going to be," Schaeffer said, "And that's a fixed cost, and a big chunk of the operating cost is salary."

Still, Schaeffer added, "It certainly could be worse," given EPA's spending boost last year and the president's pledge to freeze discretionary spending.

The proposal would also reduce water infrastructure loan programs and Superfund cleanup programs, but it would slate new funding toward greenhouse gas regulations, state and tribal environmental grants and brownfield cleanup efforts.

Climate, air programs

With EPA poised to soon begin regulating stationary and mobile sources of greenhouse gases, the administration requested boosting funds for programs aimed at tracking the emissions and for efforts to curb them.

The president requested $21 million to implement the agency's greenhouse gas reporting rule, which requires large facilities to monitor their emissions this year. That marks a $4 million boost from fiscal 2010 levels. EPA plans to begin making those data publicly available by June 15, 2011.

The budget also allots $56 million -- including $43 million in new funding -- for EPA and states to curb greenhouse gas emissions through regulatory programs. Of that funding, $25 million would aid states as they begin to account for greenhouse gases in New Source Review and operating permits; $7 million would go toward developing New Source Performance Standards to curb greenhouse gases from major stationary sources; $6 million would be used to implement EPA's pending greenhouse gas standards for automobiles and developing other mobile source regulations; and $5 million would be used to develop the best available practices and technologies for controlling emissions.

Obama also repeated his call for Congress to pass a cap-and-trade climate bill. "The Administration supports a comprehensive market-based climate policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States more than 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050," the proposal says. "The President also supports a near-term target in the range of a 17 percent reduction by 2020."

The administration also pledged to protect air quality by implementing strategies to attain national standards for ozone, particulate matter and other criteria pollutants, and to reduce regional haze by slashing regional transport of pollutants. EPA will also continue to develop and issue national technology-based and risk-based standards to reduce toxic air pollutants emitted by industrial facilities and urban sources.

State and tribal clean air and water grants would receive $1.3 billion under the program -- a 14 percent increase from 2010 levels and the highest level ever, according to the proposal. In addition to the $25 million for state greenhouse gas permitting activities, the budget would provide a $45 million increase for state water pollution control grants and a $58 million boost for air quality management grants.

Water programs, ecosystem restorations

The president proposed a cut for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which finance state and local clean water projects.

The funds would get a total of $3.3 billion, down from $3.5 billion in the fiscal 2010 spending bill. The number still would be more than double what the programs received in fiscal 2009.

The White House highlights Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay restoration projects as budget priorities next year.

The Great Lakes cleanup effort would receive $300 million, down from $425 million in fiscal 2010, to continue efforts to clean up contaminated sediments and toxic chemicals, fend off invasive species and curb pollution and habitat degradation.

The Chesapeake Bay restoration would get $63 million under the proposal, up from $50 million in fiscal 2010. The president has marked the ecosystem for extra federal attention, issuing an executive order in May calling for a more serious cleanup effort.

The budget proposes $17 million in new funding for the Mississippi River Basin. EPA and the Agriculture Department would use the money to target pollution runoff from farms in an effort to reduce nutrient pollution that contributes to the severely oxygen depleted "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.

Science, toxics cleanup

Obama is proposing to cut the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative, which the White House called a "small program duplicative of larger programs." Instead, the budget proposes funding larger brownfield cleanup efforts, providing $138 million for fiscal 2011, $38 million more than Congress approved last year.

As a part of that initiative, EPA proposed a goal of having 20 brownfields projects by 2012 focused on poor communities rather than individual properties in an effort to achieve greater success at redevelopment. The agency will work with state and local governments to help the communities implement their cleanup goals.

Cash for Superfund would decrease slightly from $1.31 billion in fiscal 2010 to $1.29 billion in the White House proposal. Funding for EPA's Office of Inspector General would remain roughly level at $46 million, a slight increase from last year's $45 million, as would money for EPA's leaking underground storage tank cleanup, which would receive $113 million.

Science and technology funding would see a slight boost in fiscal 2011, from $846 million in 2010 to $847 million. Part of the funding would be slated for land preservation and restoration, with research focused on contaminated sediments in groundwater and the fate of nanomaterials in the environment. Funding would also be directed to the agency's healthy communities research agenda, focusing on mercury, pesticides and toxic chemicals, and nanotechnology, as well as broader human health research and risk assessments.

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