EHS Administration

Congress Proposes Severe EPA Budget Cuts

Congress’s proposed EPA budget for 2024 is 39% less than fiscal year (FY) 2023. It provides $6.173 billion to the Agency, which is $3.96 billion (39%) below the FY 2023 enacted level and $5.91 billion below the president’s Budget Request. This is the smallest proposed budget for the Agency in nearly three decades.

“The GOP funding cuts, passed along party lines, would significantly impact state and local efforts to improve drinking water and reduce water pollution,” reports Route Fifty. “Additional cuts would severely hamper environmental justice projects. … House Democrats said such a reduction would bring funding for the agency to its lowest level since 1991.

“The environmental spending measure, which passed in a 213-203 partisan vote, essentially decimates funding for states to improve drinking water and reduce water pollution. It also creates a deep divide between the House and Senate on proposed spending that will have to be bridged to avoid a shutdown.”

Taking a closer look at the proposed House budget

The top-line messaging in the proposed budget is that it:

  • “Reins in wasteful Washington spending and bureaucracy by:
    • Rightsizing agency funding levels;
    • Expanding access to critical minerals;
    • Requiring oil and gas lease sales;
    • Limiting job killing regulations by the EPA, such as repealing the recent Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulation;
    • Limiting abuse of the Endangered Species Act regarding species such as the sage-grouse, the gray wolf, and the lesser-prairie chicken; and
    • Reducing funds for nearly every other appropriation in the bill, including eliminating funding for the Presidio and reducing the EPA by 39%.”
  • “Prioritizes funding for public safety and critical operations and maintenance programs by:
    • Providing a $1.604 billion increase in discretionary funding for the Wildland Fire Management accounts at the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service;
    • Providing funds for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Indian Health Service at or above the comparable FY23 enacted level.”
  • “Cuts to Wasteful Spending
    • Reduces funding for nearly every account to below FY23 enacted levels.
    • Cuts funding for programs that are unauthorized for FY24.”
  • “Claw-backs of Prior Appropriations
    • Rescinds $7.8 billion from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund created in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
    • Rescinds $1.4 billion for Environmental and Climate Justice funding provided in the IRA.
    • Rescinds $200 million designated by the Department of the Interior for the Presidio Trust.
    • Rescinds $55 million for the Council on Environmental Quality.”
  • Specifically, the proposed budget reins in the EPA by:
  • Repealing the Biden administration’s WOTUS regulation;
  • Prohibiting the EPA from allowing California to require that new small off-road engines, such as lawncare equipment, be zero-emission and prohibiting funding for EPA regulations on light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles;
  • Prohibiting funding for EPA regulatory overreach regarding ozone emissions and steam electric power plants;
  • Prohibiting EPA approvals of pesticide labeling that’s inconsistent with a human health assessment or carcinogenicity classification pursuant to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA);
  • Preventing the EPA from imposing burdensome regulations on farmers using rodenticides to prevent animal disease and prevent crop loss on farms;
  • Prohibiting funding for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan 2.0 and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule;
  • Prohibiting funding for the EPA to issue regulations on ethylene oxide emissions until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certifies that such regulations won’t adversely impact the availability of sterile medical products;
  • Prohibiting the EPA from imposing mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from manure management systems;
  • Prohibiting the EPA from implementing permitting requirements for livestock emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA); and
  • Prohibiting agencies from using the Social Cost of Carbon in cost-benefit analyses.

“In addition to the top-line EPA cuts, the GOP bill would also rescind provisions from the climate, tax and health care bill that Democrats passed last year,” reports The Hill. “It targets funding aimed at helping underserved communities combat climate change and pollution.

“It additionally seeks to defund the EPA’s efforts to curtail toxic pollution and planet-warming emissions, preventing the agency from using funding to enforce its rules on power plants.”

The bill, as proposed, also requires oil and gas lease sales in Alaska, where the Biden administration currently doesn’t plan to offer new lease sales.

“The massive funding cut proposed by the GOP has virtually no chance of becoming law in this year’s budget but marks a starting point in negotiations for Republicans as they look to negotiate with Democrats in the Senate on funding the government,” The Hill adds. “The bill is one of 12 annual government funding bills Republicans hoped to have passed by a Nov. 17 deadline to prevent a shutdown. However, Republicans face a challenge in staying unified on spending as they look to approve the remaining five bills in the tight window.”

“The bill looks drastically different from its counterpart in the Senate, which calls for $7 billion more in total funding than the legislation passed in the House and was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support in committee earlier this year,” The Hill article continues. “The gap comes as no surprise, as House Republicans announced earlier this year they would be marking up their fiscal 2024 government funding plans below the budget caps deal struck between President Biden and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) over the summer.

“Hard-line conservatives had sought to dial up pressure on GOP leadership to make further spending cuts. But Simpson (Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho) and other top appropriators told The Hill in recent days that they have been backing away from earlier plans to further big-dollar cuts to the funding legislation, as conservatives have signaled they’ll give Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) some breathing room amid spending talks.”

Senate 2024 appropriations bill

The FY 2024 proposed Senate budget bill includes:

  • $100 million for environmental justice.
  • $2.76 billion for aging water infrastructure.
  • $4 million above FY 2023 for the EPA’s clean air and climate programs to tackle climate change and ensure families in every part of the country have clean air and water.
  • $35 million above FY 2023 for geographic restoration programs. This funding will help protect local ecosystems and communities from climate change, habitat loss, and pollution in places like the Great Lakes, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, and southern New England estuaries.
  • Modest increases to support EPA grant programs like the Brownfields Program, U.S.-Mexico Border Program, and Wildfire Smoke Preparedness in Community Buildings Grant Program.

EPA underfunding

A New York Times article dated January 23, 2023, characterizes the EPA as “traumatized” and struggling to meet its mission.

“Despite an injection of funding, the agency still has not recovered from an exodus of scientists and policy experts, both insiders and critics say,” the article notes. The EPA “is still reeling from the exodus of more than 1,200 scientists and policy experts during the Trump administration. The chemicals chief said her staff can’t keep up with a mounting workload. The enforcement unit is prosecuting fewer polluters than at any time in the past two decades.

“And now this: the stressed-out, stretched-thin [EPA] is scrambling to write about a half dozen highly complex rules and regulations that are central to President Biden’s climate goals.”

EPA budget cuts decimate the Agency’s ability to achieve its mission, which is to protect human health and the environment to ensure the nation’s people have access to clean air, land, and water.

Approximately 28% of the EPA’s budget is for its staffing needs. The Agency has been understaffed for years. This translates into an insufficient workforce to meet the demands of the work for which the Agency is responsible.

When it received an increase in funding in 2023, the EPA hired more than 500 full-time staffers to address priorities for the Agency, which include addressing “forever chemicals,” ensuring dangerous chemicals aren’t sold to the public, protecting the air quality by enforcing emissions limits, and ensuring drinking water is safe and that industry follows environmental regulations.

Budget cuts prevent the Agency from hiring new staff members and retaining existing staff.

Proposed cuts would also remove access to $80 million in funding that was provided to improve drinking and wastewater infrastructure.

According to an opinion piece by David Coursen in The Hill, cuts under the proposed House plan would do the following:

  • “[S]et back EPA’s efforts to advance environmental justice, a signature administration initiative to tackle the inequities in environmental protections historically suffered by underserved and overburdened communities.”
  • “Operating EPA enforcement and compliance programs at FY 2022 levels would mean cutting $70 million in funding added in 2023. Such cuts would limit EPA’s ability to investigate, pursue, and compel timely and appropriate actions in priority areas; return facilities to compliance so they are operating safely and not impacting the health of adjacent communities; ensure a level playing field for well-run companies; and advance the promise of clean air, land, and water.”
  • “Specifically, the cuts could mean losing 140 inspectors, which would reduce by 2200 the number of annual compliance monitoring activities, prolonging exposure to all kinds of environmental pollution. The enforcement and compliance programs are especially vulnerable to funding cuts because 80 percent of their budgets are for payroll, compensation, and benefits.”
  • “Funding at the FY 22 level would also eliminate $24 million for EPA’s work to address climate change. And the spending cap would deny $700 million in needed support for EPA and state air programs and air and climate research to address the climate challenge.”

Political negotiations aside, the reality is that the EPA can’t complete its mission without proper funding to fulfill its obligations. Once the final budget is negotiated, those impacted and industry analysts will be in a better position to determine how the EPA will move forward in FY 2024.

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