House Appropriations Committee Bill Bumps Up Water Infrastructure and Brownfields Funding
House bill includes $5 billion for water infrastructure, a $10 million increase for the brownfield program and largely rebuffs the administration's draconian cuts to EPA.
Updated below (08/02/2017)
This week the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2018 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. The legislation includes funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Service, the Indian Health Service, and various independent and related agencies.
In total, the bill provides $31.4 billion, $824 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level–but $4.3 billion above the President’s budget request. These investments in the nation’s natural resources, include $3.4 billion for the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service to prevent and combat devastating wildfires.
A statement released with the bill’s passage in committee indicated that the bill would rein in burdensome regulations, make investments in the nation’s natural resources, help fight damaging wildfires, and support Native communities
“This legislation responsibly supports the agencies and offices we rely on to preserve our natural resources for future generations, and prioritizes our limited funding to programs that protect environmental safety, such as the Chemical Safety Board. Further, the Committee’s vigorous oversight has identified opportunities to rein in the federal bureaucracy and to stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations that destroy economic opportunity and hinder job creation,” House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said.
“The agencies funded in the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill do important work protecting public lands, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Our subcommittee prioritized proven programs that have a meaningful impact to achieve these goals while also ensuring our economy can continue to grow. I’m particularly pleased that we were able to provide significant funding for our increasingly popular National Parks and the Clean Diesel program, and ensure the development of the USGS earthquake early warning system can continue,” Interior Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert said.
Representatives also praised the bill’s $5 billion for water infrastructure, upgrades to the Superfund cleanup program to speed it up and additional support to brownfield redevelopment and some scientific research funds. They also highlighted funding for programs to protect the Chesapeake Bay and other sensitive areas and important regional efforts.
Brownfields would receive a double-digit percentage increase if the House bill becomes law–with brownfields receiving an additional ~$10 million, or ~$90 million in 2018.
The bill also contains $10’s of millions to help pay for EPA employee buyouts, which is part of a larger effort to entice agency employees to leave voluntarily. EPA has already sent more than 1,000 letters to its employees offering buyouts or early retirements–182 in its Midwest regional office in Chicago alone–offering as part of the administration’s plans to drastically reduce the size of the agency’s workforce.
So while it’s about to get smaller, the Chicago regional office appears to be safe. The House bill confirms statements made at a budget hearing last month, in which EPA Administrator Pruitt described reports that the Trump administration planned to close the EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago and consolidate it with the agency’s Region 7 office in Kansas as “pure legend.”
But the American Federation of Government Employees, released a statement in response to the bill this week in which the EPA union head blasted the proposed 2018 budget workforce cuts: “While we certainly applaud Congress for recognizing the work the U.S. EPA does by rejecting the extremely truncated budget proposed by President Trump, AFGE firmly opposes any cuts that would end the Agency’s ability to protect public health and safety. The EPA has struggled under decreasing budgets over the past decade, leaving it severely understaffed and underfunded. The budget allocation for 2018 simply brings funding back to the levels of 2008 – which were already dangerously low.”
The EPA workforce had already been shrinking under the Obama administration–falling from ~17,000 in 2009 to ~15,000 in 2016. Under Obama, EPA to shed ~450 employees at a cost of $16 million through early retirement and buyout packages of $25,000. The EPA Inspector General's office reported early finding on the Obama administration's buyout program in March.
The bill was approved by the Appropriations Committee by a vote of 30-21.
Other highlights of the new House bill are summarized below:
Wildland Firefighting and Prevention – In total, the bill funds wildland firefighting and prevention programs at $3.4 billion – fully funding the 10-year average for wildland fire suppression costs for both the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. This is $334 million below the fiscal year 2017 level. Most of this reduction is the result of the transfer of the Forest Service’s hazardous fuels reduction program to its National Forest System, as requested by the Administration. The legislation also includes $575 million for hazardous fuels management, which is $5 million above the fiscal year 2017 level.
Federal Payments to Local Communities – The bill provides $465 million for the “Payments In Lieu of Taxes” (PILT) program. PILT provides funds for local governments in 49 states to help offset losses in property taxes due to nontaxable federal lands within their counties. Without congressional action, many rural communities would face huge budget shortfalls impacting public safety, education, and other local government responsibilities.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – The bill funds the EPA at $7.5 billion, a reduction of $528 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $1.9 billion above the Administration’s request. The legislation supports the President’s proposal to reshape the agency’s workforce by providing resources requested to offer buyouts and voluntary separation agreements to employees. This bill also reflects the Administration’s goal to rein in "outdated, unnecessary and potentially harmful regulations at the EPA." For example, it includes language authorizing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Secretary of the Army to withdraw the Waters of the United States rule.
Native American Programs – The Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Education are funded at $2.9 billion – an increase of $10 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This includes necessary increases for schools, law enforcement, road maintenance, economic development, realty, and water settlements.
The Indian Health Service is funded at $5.1 billion – an increase of $97 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This includes operating costs for staffing at new facilities and increases for fixed costs and the Indian Health Care Improvement Fund.
Office of Surface Mining (OSM) – The OSM is funded at $213 million in the bill – $40 million below the fiscal year 2017 level. This includes $75 million to continue a pilot program to accelerate the reclamation of abandoned mine lands, which will help boost community redevelopment and economic growth. The legislation also continues state regulatory grants at $68.6 million.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) –The bill contains $1.2 billion for the BLM, a decrease of $46 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, including a $20 million decrease for federal land acquisition.
The bill provides $68.9 million, which is equal to the fiscal year 2017 level, for on-the-ground sage grouse conservation to protect the species and to preserve federal lands for public and private uses, such as energy development, ranching, recreation, and military training.
National Park Service (NPS) – The legislation contains $2.9 billion for the NPS, a decrease of $64 million below the fiscal year 2017 level. Much of the reduction is in land acquisition activities. Within the total, the bill retains $55 million targeted to park operations and maintenance to help reduce the deferred maintenance backlog.
U.S. Forest Service – The bill includes $5.2 billion for the Forest Service. Approximately half of this funding – $2.5 billion – is targeted to wildland fire prevention and suppression. The bill also includes a provision prohibiting the Forest Service or BLM from issuing new closures of public lands to hunting and recreational shooting, except in the case of public safety.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) – The FWS is funded at $1.5 billion in the bill, a $38 million decrease below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Core responsibilities and grant programs are level funded. The legislation prioritizes funding to reduce the endangered species delisting backlog and refuge maintenance backlog, to fight invasive species, to prevent illegal wildlife trafficking, and to prevent the closure of fish hatcheries.
The bill also continues a one-year delay on any further Endangered Species Act status reviews, determinations, and rulemakings for greater sage-grouse.
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) – The bill includes $1 billion for the USGS, $46 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Funding is targeted to programs dealing with natural hazards, streamgages, the groundwater monitoring network, and mapping activities. The bill includes $10.2 million for an earthquake early warning system to help save lives during natural disasters, and provides the $8.3 million increase necessary for support of “Landsat 9” – a satellite program that provides land use measurements that are important to local communities for agriculture, forestry, energy and water resource decisions.
Smithsonian Institution – The Smithsonian Institution is funded at $885 million in the bill, $22 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This level is sufficient to allow all current operations and programs to continue.
National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities – The bill includes $145 million for each of the endowments, $5 million below the fiscal year 2017 level for each endowment.
Eisenhower Memorial Commission – The bill provides $16.6 million for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission ($1.6 million for salaries and expenses and $15 million for construction). Bill language extends the authority to build on the current site.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – The bill provides $275 million for LWCF programs – $125 million below the current level but $211 million above the President’s request. State and local recreation and battlefield preservation programs are prioritized, while strategic investments in federal land acquisition are recommended.
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) – The CSB is funded at $11 million, equal to the fiscal year 2017 level. The Administration proposed to terminate this program.
Update 08/02/2017: The Senate is said to take up this legislation following the August recession. Stay tuned.
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