House proposes slashing $4B from the EPA
The GOP funding cuts, passed along party lines, would significantly impact state and local efforts to improve drinking water and reduce water pollution. Additional cuts would severely hamper environmental justice projects.
In another sign of states and cities being caught in the middle of the partisan fight in Congress that threatens a government shutdown in two weeks, the Republican House on Friday voted to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by $4 billion or 39%. 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.
The measure slashes spending on a variety of other programs including for brownfields and replacing diesel buses and garbage trucks. Amendments approved by the House also bar federal funds from being used to build solar in disadvantaged communities or other environmental justice projects.
“Basically, everything is taking a pretty significant hit,” said Nathan Gardner-Andrews, chief advocacy officer for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, which represents 350 public wastewater and stormwater agencies.
Funding for state and local governments will again be targeted next week when the House is expected to pass a separate bill that will cut spending on the departments of transportation and Housing and Urban Development, or THUD, by $26 billion or 28%. That would leave the two chambers billions of dollars apart after the Senate passed its own nearly $99 billion bill on Wednesday that would largely keep transportation and housing spending the same as this year’s budget. Transportation programs for transit and rail would take the brunt of the hit under the House’s bill.
Friday’s environmental measure would cut $1.8 billion in funding under the Inflation Reduction Act that the EPA sends states through the clean water and drinking water funds, leaving only $995 million for the programs. Angering many state officials and advocates, $880 million of that money would be spent on earmarks for water projects. That would give states just $115 million to use at their discretion for their highest priorities.
For instance, $470 million of the $535 million for clean water projects, like improving municipal wastewater plants, would be spent on lawmakers’ pet projects in their communities. Rather than the $1.6 billion in funding they received last year, state water agencies would only receive $65 million.
“That would then have to be divided among the 50 states,” said Gardner-Andrews. “It would almost be comical if it wasn't so serious in terms of its potential impact.”
Republicans, though, say the nation needs to reduce its debt by cutting what they consider to be excessive and wasteful spending under the Biden administration, including the passage of last year’s Inflation Reduction Act. Republicans are pushing to lower non-Defense spending from around $703 billion to $585 billion.
“Cutting funding is never easy or pretty,” said Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican, at the beginning of a daylong debate on Thursday. “But with the national debt in excess of $33 trillion, and inflation at an unacceptable level, we had to make tough choices to rein in federal spending.”
The House approved an amendment by Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican, to bar the use of the funds for environmental justice activities. On the House floor, Roy said that while he “loves trees,” states don’t need $1.5 billion to plant trees in disadvantaged areas.
Rep. David Schweikert, an Arizona Republican, who unsuccessfully pushed to cut spending in the bill by another 16%, said local governments like Maricopa County, where he served as the treasurer, have the taxing authority to pay for climate projects themselves.
The extent of the cuts, though, sets up a wide gulf between the GOP House and President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats.
“I think it's foolishness,” Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who chairs the Senate’s environmental committee, said in an interview.
“The continuing resolution expires in less than three weeks, but instead of getting to work negotiating with the Senate on a full year bill, we are wasting time,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree, the top Democrat on the House environmental spending appropriations subcommittee.
New House Speaker Mike Johnson said at a press conference on Thursday that there’s “growing recognition” Congress might have to again pass a continuing resolution, as it did on Sept. 30, to avoid a shutdown on Nov. 18. But it remains to be seen what House Republicans will propose or be willing to agree to in a short-term budget deal. The House and Senate continue to be divided over sending additional funding to Ukraine, in addition to aid to Israel.
Despite the cuts, states would still be receiving $43 billion a year for water programs under the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
However, states need additional funding on top of that, as they deal with “a multitude of complex challenges,” Adam Krantz, CEO of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, wrote members of the House on Tuesday, urging billions more funding than the body passed.
These challenges, he wrote, “include reinvesting in aging infrastructure, managing escalating operation and maintenance costs, addressing supply chain disruptions, attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, dealing with water quality impairments, and adhering to regulations related to substances like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).”
The environmental spending bill would increase funding for some areas, including for putting out wildfires on federal and state lands. But in addition to “right sizing the agencies under our jurisdiction, the bill reduces funding for nearly every other appropriation in the bill and many agencies received double-digit percentage reductions,” said Simpson, Idaho’s representative.
The bill would also eliminate $7.8 billion from the $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund created in the Inflation Reduction Act, including funding for states and localities to expand solar energy in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
The House Republican measure would also cut $1.4 billion in funding for environmental and climate justice. The cut would come on the heels of an announcement last week by the EPA awarding the first $128 million to 186 projects across the country.
The program is funding, among other things, an initiative by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality to increase testing and mitigation of radon in low-income homes. Flagstaff, Arizona, received funding to improve air monitoring during wildfires. And Rochester, New York, got money to build all-electric homes with air-powered heat pumps, electric appliances and rooftop solar where feasible, as well as put electric vehicle chargers in areas that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.
The House measure also called for cutting funding for brownfields by $20 million or by about a fifth. Funds for reducing diesel emissions would also be cut by $105 million.