Senate proposes funding increases for EPA, interior in Fiscal 2014 appropriations bill

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Courtesy of Bloomberg BNA

Senate Democrats Aug. 1 released a $30.2 billion draft appropriations bill that would increase funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by approximately $105 million, or 1.25 percent, compared to the pre-sequester fiscal year 2013 enacted level.

Overall, the draft bill includes a total of $8.48 billion in funding for EPA. The bill would maintain funding for the clean water and drinking water state revolving funds at fiscal 2013 levels and provide small funding increases for several agency programs, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the hazardous substance superfund program.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats also proposed to provide the Interior Department with $10.75 billion in fiscal 2014, an increase of approximately $299 million compared to the fiscal 2013 enacted level of $10.47 billion, according to an  explanatory statement released by the committee. The Interior Department funding includes increases of $19.1 million for the Bureau of Land Management and $29.1 million for the U.S. Geological Survey.

Senate Democrats also proposed to increase funding for offshore safety and environmental enforcement by $24.9 million and to provide the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages leasing of federal offshore energy and minerals resources, with an additional $8.7 million compared to fiscal 2013 levels.

The legislation includes approximately $290 million in funding for EPA's clean air and climate programs, an increase of $7.4 million compared to the fiscal 2013 enacted level, according to committee documents.

The funding levels proposed by the Senate are significantly higher than those included in the House Appropriations Committee's Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill, which proposed to cut EPA funding by 34 percent. The House Appropriations Committee began the markup of that bill, which also contains legislative riders that would restrict EPA's ability to implement portions of President Obama's climate change plan, July 31 but postponed completion of the markup until after the August recess (see related story).

A Senate Appropriations Committee spokeswoman told BNA Aug. 1 that no markup has been scheduled for the Senate bill.

Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, said in a joint statement Aug. 1 that the draft bill is intended to serve as “a meaningful start as discussions continue to finalize” funding levels for fiscal 2014.

Bill Maintains State Funding

The Senate proposal would maintain funding for many of EPA's state and tribal assistance programs at fiscal 2013 enacted levels, including the clean water and drinking water SRFs.

The clean water SRF would receive $1.45 billion under the Senate bill, while the drinking water SRF would receive approximately $907 million. The SRFs, which provide capital for water infrastructure projects, would be subjected to significant cuts under the House proposal.

The Senate also proposed to increase funding for the categorical grants, which aid states in implementing and enforcing federal water, air, waste, pesticides, and toxic substances regulations, by $12.2 million.

While funding for most of the grants, including Clean Water Act Section 319 grants that aid states and tribes in their nonpoint source pollution management efforts, would remain stable compared to fiscal 2013, the committee proposed small increases for state water pollution grants awarded under Section 106 and beach protection grants.

Steven Brown, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States, told BNA that the Senate's proposal is a “better starting place” for negotiations than the House interior-environment bill.

House Proposal Called 'Very Alarming.'

Brown said the House proposal was “very alarming” to state environmental agencies because it included a “draconian set of cuts” to the categorical grants. He said the House proposal, if enacted, would “start the disassembly” of the relationship between the federal government and the state agencies that implement environmental directives.

The Senate proposal includes “buy American language” that would require all projects that receive funding from the SRFs to use domestically produced iron and steel products.

The provision, which also was included in the House appropriations bill, includes an exemption for projects where the use of domestic materials would increase the overall project cost by more than 25 percent.

Brown said that although he was encouraged by the Senate proposal, he was unsure how the Senate and House will be able to resolve their differing budget allocations.

The House Appropriations Committee's proposed fiscal 2014 funding bills would keep fiscal 2014 discretionary spending under $967 billion, while the Senate Appropriations Committee based its proposed bills on a spending cap of $1.058 trillion.

Collectively, the Senate funding proposals would exceed post-sequester spending limits called for in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Passage of Short-Term Bill

Brown said if the two chambers are able to agree to pass a short-term continuing resolution at fiscal 2013 levels, EPA funding would still be subject to automatic discretionary spending cuts required under the Budget Control Act. Brown acknowledged that although the sequester cuts would hurt state environmental efforts, they would not be as severe as the cuts proposed by the House.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who separately addressed reporters following a Senate vote Aug. 1, both said that negotiations between the parties on how to fund the government past Sept. 30 will take place after Congress returns from its August recess.

The House has passed four of its 12 regular appropriations bills for fiscal 2014, while the Senate has not yet passed any of its funding bills.

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