US House subcommittee passes reduced DOI, EPA appropriations

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, July 8 -- The US House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill that would set fiscal 2012 budgets for the US Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency at $27.5 billion. The amount represents cuts of $2.1 billion from fiscal 2011 and $3.8 billion from the Obama administration’s 2012 request, but is essentially level with fiscal 2009 spending, subcommittee chairman Michael K. Simpson (R-Ida.) said.

The July 7 markup and vote moved quickly because Democrats who opposed the measure plan to introduce amendments when it reaches the full Appropriations Committee and on the House floor. “As bad as the funding in the bill is, what is most disappointing is the scope and extent to which the majority has filled it with legislative riders and funding limitations,” Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.), the subcommittee’s ranking minority member, said in his opening statement.

Simpson said while the bill significantly reduces spending across many agencies and programs, it provides ample funding to support essential programs, including an increase for the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement to hire more inspectors and move ahead with offshore oil and gas safety improvements.

BOEMRE’s budget under the bill would be $154 million, about $72 million below last year’s level because the agency’s royalty management responsibilities were moved to the newly formed Office of Natural Resources Revenue within the office of the assistant Interior secretary for policy, management, and budget, according to Simpson.

He said it does not include the administration’s proposals to increase oil and gas fees by $55 million offshore and $38 million onshore. “I hope to work with the administration in the coming year to find out if these fees truly need to be higher,” Simpson said. The bill also cuts climate change research funding to DOI agencies, which has increased steadily the past few years, by $83 million, he indicated.

Reining in EPA
Simpson also suggested that the bill’s most controversial provisions are those dealing with EPA. “Its unrestrained effort to regulate greenhouse gases, and the pursuit of an overly aggressive regulatory agenda, are signs of an agency that has lost its bearing,” he said. “Wherever I go, the biggest complain I hear about the federal government is about how EPA is creating economic uncertainty and killing jobs in this country.”

The bill would fund EPA at $7.1 billion in fiscal 2012, $1.5 billion, or 18%, below fiscal 2011 and $1.8 billion, or 20%, below the administration’s request, according to a handout by the subcommittee’s majority staff. It also would cap EPA’s workforce at the 2010 level—the lowest since 1992—and rescind certain unobligated grant and contract funding. The biggest single cut would by $967 million in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which the majority staff said received $6 billion of economic stimulus money.

Moran and other Democrats on the subcommittee said they were horrified by the extent of the proposed cuts in EPA’s budget, particularly those involving the Endangered Species Act. “EPA funding under the bill would reduce the number of employees to 1991 and provide $442 million less than in 1999 when our colleague, Jerry Lewis [(R-Calif.)] was chairman of the subcommittee with jurisdiction over EPA,” the subcommittee’s ranking minority member said.

Simpson said that cuts aimed at the ESA were an attempt to get other House committees to reform and reauthorize it. “Stakeholders who have an interest, as well as the committees themselves, need to come to the table,” he maintained. “More time is spent in court now than in protecting species.”

But Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.), the full committee’s ranking minority member, responded that ESA programs have kept getting funds 20 years after the law’s authorization expired because they matter. “The bill also picks winners and losers,” Moran added. “The [US Bureau of Land Management] hasn’t been authorized for decades, but it’s funded.”

Other provisions
The US Bureau of Land Management would receive $1 billion, down $63 million from the previous year and $1.2 billion below the administration’s request. The US Geological Survey’s fiscal 2012 budget would be $1.1 billion, down $30 million from fiscal 2011, with most of the cuts occurring in climate change and satellite imaging programs, while energy and minerals, natural hazards, and water programs would be prioritized, according to the subcommittee majority’s handout.

It said the bill’s nonrevenue provisions include one that would clarify current permitting activities for US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas operations, and set parameters for EPA approval of associated air quality permits, similar to a provision that the full House approved in June. Another would institute a 1-year prohibition from regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, while a third would prohibit funds for EPA to expand storm water discharge requirements.

Moran said he had counted 26 legislative riders and funding limitations in the bill which either reopen controversies or start new ones. They include National Environmental Policy Act waivers, limitations on judicial reviews, and blocking of pollution controls, he indicated.

“This bill has managed to fall short of even the minimal expectations I had for it,” Moran said. “It is not so much a spending bill as a wish list for special interests. Oil companies, cattle grazers, and miners, as well as those who pollute our air and foul our water, all have special provisions tucked away in this bill. It is a dump truck of provisions for special interests.”

“Believe it or not, we turned away far more policy provisions than we included,” Simpson told reporters following the markup and vote. “I suspect we’ll see even more restrictions on EPA proposed in the full committee and on the floor. We tried not to make the bill a dump truck of special interest provisions. But they will be debated, either as additions or removals. Several provisions will survive. Others won’t.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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