Air expert Bill Becker assesses impact of EPA's budget cuts on states

With EPA's budget cut by 16 percent in Congress' spending deal, will states' ability to comply with federal air rules be affected? During today's OnPoint, William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, discusses the impacts of the funding cut on states and legislative efforts to block EPA's regulations.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Bill, thanks for coming back on the show.

Bill Becker: Thanks for inviting me.

Monica Trauzzi: Bill, last week's spending deal cuts EPA's budget by about 16 percent, in particular funding for state compliance with new federal rules got a major cut. What is the net impact of these cuts on a state's ability to comply with air rules?

Bill Becker: The states took a very significant hit and beyond just air, there was over a billion dollars taken out of the water state revolving fund and that's going to have really dramatic impacts. But even in the air program, we are suffering close to a $100 million cut from expected levels in 2011. The Obama administration had asked for an $82 1/2 million increase to address three key parts of the air program, beefing up the core elements of our program, SIP development, inspections, and so forth. The second piece was increasing the monitoring network where we need to let the public know whether the air they breathe is safe or not. And a third is to help states develop the infrastructure for greenhouse gas implementation. All that was cut. Beyond that, they cut $30 million to help states and localities meet some of the ozone and PM 2.5 implementation issues and another $10 million to cut out totally the climate competitive program for local communities.

Monica Trauzzi: Does it make sense to be cutting money out of the budget when EPA really is rolling out more and more regulations in the short term?

Bill Becker: It's very disappointing. It makes no sense at all. Congress asked us to do some very important programs to protect public health and welfare. There are tens of thousands of people who die each year from air pollution. At a time when states are required to really roll out new programs to beef up their efforts, this is the absolute wrong time to be cutting back state and local permitting and other programs.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator Boxer said the cuts are counterproductive, but they were better than the alternative. So, I mean, is there a bright side here? Could it have been worse?

Bill Becker: Well, certainly it could've been worse, but these were cuts that were made arbitrarily and there was absolutely no connection between the cuts that were made and the protection of public health. It is with certainty that one can predict that the less amount of money going toward these programs means worse air pollution and increased mortality and increased morbidity. The fact of the matter is --

Monica Trauzzi: Can you really make that correlation?

Bill Becker: Yes, there are 30 or 40,000 people each year who die from air pollution and without the pollution control staff on the beat to ensure that noncompliant facilities do their job, without the inspectors out there, without the monitors out there to determine whether air pollution is exceeding health-based standards more people will get sick and more people will die prematurely.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what's the on-the-ground impact then in terms of a state's ability to comply with greenhouse gas regulations? Are states going to be able to move forward with that? What's going to happen?

Bill Becker: Well, many states are moving forward. They are issuing permits. There have been three permits that have actually been issued either in final form or in draft form. There are about 50 to 75 permit applications that are currently being reviewed nationally, maybe one or two per agency, and many are doing very well with implementing that program, even with lesser resources. There are some agencies we're hearing from, however, that find this new requirement, not new program, but new requirement for greenhouse gases, very daunting. And it's especially worsened as a result of the cuts in resources. This is a program that's not only going to address greenhouse gases, but it could trigger criteria pollutant BACT and it could make their life a lot more difficult than it currently is. So, we are all trying to contend. Some are having a more difficult time than others, but this --

Monica Trauzzi: Can you specify which areas are having a more difficult time?

Bill Becker: Well, I think some states clearly in the Southeast, which are suffering some significant funding issues and some other states scattered throughout the country we're hearing from are having some trouble. They want to do this. They're trying their best to comply with the law. They know it's very important to permit these facilities quickly so that sources can plan and can have the certainty they need.

Monica Trauzzi: Do these cuts that we saw demonstrate the lack of acceptance surrounding the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions? Do you think it was a way of saying something else?

Bill Becker: Well, I think there are many in Congress who would like this program to go away, but the fact of the matter is the program we don't think is going away anytime soon. The Senate tried to defer it and failed, some tried to rescind it and failed, and, for the time being, if facilities want to construct they will need to go through this program. State and local agencies are doing their best to make sure that the program works smoothly. We're trying to get permits out quickly. We're succeeding. And we understand the sensitivity of expanding manufacturers' base and operations, but I don't see this program going away anytime soon.

Monica Trauzzi: Like you said, efforts to block EPA have failed over the last couple of weeks. So, do you think those efforts are going to begin dying out or will we continue to see efforts in Congress to stop EPA?

Bill Becker: Well, we hope that the Senate has spoken and they're dying out, but these things come up all the time and we are prepared to engage again. There are states on both sides of the issue and they're going to have to do what they have to do, but, for the time being, our position is, until the law is changed, we're going to make this program work. We're going to try our best with the limited resources and we're going to get permits out quickly and, as we predicted, most of the decisions thus far have been based upon energy efficiency and that's good public policy.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it right there. Thank you for coming on the show.

Bill Becker: Well, thanks, Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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