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Budget Compromise Slashes EPA, OSHA

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

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The 11th-hour budget deal that averted a government shutdown will come at a high price for two Republican targets: the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The $1.049 trillion FY 2011 Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government through Sept. 30 cuts $1.6 billion from EPA and $49 million from OSHA over the next six months, according to details released this week.

The House and Senate are expected to approve the budget agreement this week, replacing a stopgap spending measure approved earlier this month. The final bill includes about $39 billion in cuts—the largest one-time federal spending reduction in history. 

EPA: 16% Reduction

Friends and foes of EPA each got half a loaf under the budget agreement. Foes lost their bid to eliminate EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Instead, they settled for taking a big bite out of the agency’s budget, mostly in the area of clean-water projects.
 
 EPA cuts

 EPA

The cuts will mean about $1 billion less for water infrastructure, one official says.

The current budget plan cuts EPA’s spending by 16% from its 2010 level, leaving it at $8.7 billion.

"The Obama administration has dumped money into the EPA over the past two years, and what the American people have seen as a result is a slew of new regulations pouring out of the agency," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), chairman of the Interior subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

The EPA's budget has risen sharply under President Obama’s administration, from years in the $7.5 billion to $7.7 billion range to $10.3 billion in FY 2010.

Infrastructure Targeted

Most of the EPA cuts will reduce aid to help states implement health and environmental-protection laws; a detailed plan is expected within 30 days.

The cuts will cost the water-treatment and drinking-water sectors about $1 billion in infrastructure improvements, said R. Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States.

"These federal cuts make our job to provide a clean environment that much harder," said Brown. 

The deal also cuts programs related to climate change by $49 million, or 13%, and the now-vacant position of the president's special adviser on climate change would be eliminated. 
 
 OSHA cuts

 OSHA

OSHA has not yet said what programs will be affected by the $49 million cutback.

The EPA is reviewing the budget plan and will release details when the review is complete, the agency said in a statement. “We understand the need to make difficult decisions to ensure the government lives within its means.”

?However, a Greenpeace official said the cuts indicated “a willingness to compromise public health.” 

“A $1.6 billion cut coming just at the time the EPA is finally waking up and starting to adopt basic safeguards is going to have a significant impact,” Gabe Wisniewski, the group’s coal campaign director, told Bloomberg News

“It’s a larger cut than a lot of other agencies and programs are facing….”

Water 2012

Spending on water infrastructure is unlikely to improve. Obama has proposed cutting the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) by nearly $400 million and the Clean Water SRF by nearly $600 million in his proposed $3.72 trillion FY 2012 budget.

The administration has also asked that Congress cut $157 million in water infrastructure earmarks. The Army Corps of Engineers would lose almost $1 billion, primarily from reductions in water infrastructure programs.

The Drinking Water SRF is designed to help states finance infrastructure improvements to deliver safe drinking water, while the Clean Water SRF helps fund wastewater treatment, watershed management, nonpoint source pollution control and other water quality protection projects.

Last year, the Clean Water SRF received $2.1 billion and the Drinking Water SRF received $1.387 billion.

‘These Projects Aren’t Going to Get Done’

Current estimates already show a $500 billion shortfall for water infrastructure funding in the United States over the next 20 years.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson says the planned cuts reflect a more "sustainable level" of funding.

Local officials, however, say the cuts will make it more difficult for states and municipalities to fund needed infrastructure upgrades.

“I think that anybody who works in this field knows that if there isn’t a revolving fund, these projects aren’t going to get done,” Terry Sullivan, director of public utilities in Fall River, MA, told the Taunton Gazette.

Lorraine Sander, wastewater superintendent in Billerica, MA, told the paper: “What I always tell people is we can either make these repairs and plan for them or wait until things break and we’re going to fix them anyway.”?

State Budgets Impacted

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) opposed the planned cuts, saying they would hurt states facing budget shortfalls.

“Budget cuts of any kind at this time to the Clean Water Act (CWA) program ignore the very real financial constraints of states and municipalities to implement a growing array of increasingly costly CWA requirements,” the organization said.

“While NACWA recognizes the austere budgetary times under which the federal government must operate, these same circumstances are being experienced in municipalities and rate-paying households across the country.”

OSHA Cutbacks

The new budget agreement also cuts $49 million from OSHA for the rest of FY2010 and puts the agency on track to get $132 million less than it has requested for FY 2011. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee has released a chart showing the non-defense budget cuts agreed to under the Continuing Resolution.

OSHA could have fared even worse. In March, House Republicans proposed cutting $99 million—20% of its annual budget—from OSHA for the next six months. OSHA Administrator David Michaels said the cuts would “really have a devastating effect on all of our activities."

OSHA made no statement on the $49 million cutback and has not yet released a detailed spending plan for the rest of the fiscal year.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) said the cuts from the FY2010 budget are “nearly five times larger than any other cut in history, and is the result of this new Republican majority’s commitment to bring about real change in the way Washington spends the people's money."

   

Tagged categories: Air quality; EPA; Health and safety; OSHA; Regulations

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