EHS Administration, Wastewater

Congressional Lack of Funding Continues to Jeopardize EPA Operations

The EPA has been underfunded for years, and this year is no different. Although the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress provided money for the EPA to fund wastewater and clean water programs and conduct hazardous waste cleanups, Congress missed the mark in its 2022 omnibus appropriations bill to fund the EPA’s infrastructure.

The “EPA has been substantially ‘hollowed out’ from inadequate resources that have long been dangerously declining to a point where EPA is spending, in real dollars, less than half what the agency spent in 1980,” states an August 2020 EPA report entitled “Resetting the Course of EPA: Increasing Funding to Protect Public Health and the Environment.”

“Despite its generous support for physical infrastructure in the bipartisan infrastructure law, when it came to funding EPA’s operations, Congress continued its long-standing pattern — neglecting EPA’s infrastructure, the staff and programs that enable the agency to protect the environment,” states an opinion article by former EPA Attorney David Coursen in The Hill. “This year’s EPA appropriation torpedoes the agency’s rebuilding plans by rejecting almost $1.7 billion in requests for new funding. It includes a token ‘increase’ in support for EPA programs too small even to keep pace with inflation. EPA cannot remain a poor relation among federal agencies and still provide the environmental and health protections the nation requires and demands.”

According to The Hill, the appropriations bill rejected the following requests:

  • $110 million to hire 1,000 new staff members to replace the Agency’s depleted staff;
  • “[A]ll but $10 million of the increases EPA included in its request to restore the role of science in the agency with $100 million in new support for science and research”;
  • A $10 million budget increase to address polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS);
  • $300 million for climate research, air quality management, and clean air programs;
  • $175 million for enforcement and compliance monitoring, core programs for toxics and water quality, and operations and facilities; and
  • $200 million to advance environmental justice and create a new national program office to address these issues.

The $175 million budget request rejection means an improved air monitoring program cannot be enacted, which would have allowed better enforcement activities and more fines for the worst polluters.

“The lack of monitoring and enforcement support is particularly harmful, because new data show that serious environmental violations are widespread,” Coursen continues. “Often the worst violations are for the most serious pollutants and a handful of the worst polluters cause a disproportionate share of the harm: 100 facilities — half of 1 percent of the total — produced an astonishing one-third of America’s toxic air pollution in 2014. The brunt of that pollution falls on disadvantaged communities that are too often treated as little more than sacrifice zones. The jettisoned air monitoring upgrade could have helped address this with better information to inform and protect overburdened front-line and fence-line communities, as well as help direct enforcement attention to the worst problems.”

Many of the EPA budget requests are offset by the funding the Agency received through Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. However, the bulk of those funds are passed through to states and tribes. Without requested funding for its budget, the Agency remains in a desperate financial situation.

Industry is also feeling the impact of an underfunded and understaffed EPA, writes Steve Caldeira, president and CEO of the Household & Commercial Products Association, in an opinion article in The Hill.

The EPA regulates disinfectants, pesticides, and other commercial chemicals. As industry makes innovative products, these new products require EPA review and approval under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

“The agency’s work must be credible, predictable, and timely. Unfortunately, new chemicals and products are lined up to get EPA approval,” Caldeira says. “There simply are too many demands for the agency to keep up, it is missing deadlines all the time. … Companies flourish on certainty and deserve to know what to expect and how long it will take to get their products to market.  Instead, delays and backlogs continue to grow. … [A]dditional funding [is necessary]. … The EPA is responsible for regulating these products and it should get the resources it needs to do so.”

Coursen agrees.

“Unfortunately, the bipartisan infrastructure law contains no provisions that will mitigate the harsh consequences of the omnibus appropriation’s failure to provide $800 million in support for EPA’s core environmental protection infrastructure — programs and staff critically needed to help the agency fully protect people’s health and the environment,” Coursen adds. “Congress will need to do better with EPA fiscal year 2023 funding.”