Imbibed by the holiday spirit, I fulfilled my seasonal indulgence of counting our victories and spreading good tidings about the year's environmental Congressional accomplishments. Now, with the end of the holiday season, it is time to discuss one of the concessions our allies were forced to make: the hollowing out of the EPA budget.
The new budget deal sealed in November put an end to sequestration, increasing both defense and nondefense spending by $33 billion each in FY 2016 and $23 billion each in FY 2017. Whereas virtually every federal agency got a considerable bump thanks to the budget agreement--the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, was flat.
Even agencies that Republicans hate almost as much as EPA, received more money. For instance, and I excerpt from a long description from Democratic House appropriators:
- $11.235 billion for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is $1.1 billion higher than the House-passed level.
- $147.9 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is $1.9 million more than the 2015 enacted level and $1.9 million more than the House bill.
- $2.1 billion for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which is $404 million more than the House bill and $136 million more than the FY 2015 enacted level.
- $1.237 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, which is $117 million more than the 2015 enacted
- $1.508 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is $69 million more than the 2015 enacted level and $77 million more than the House bill.
- $450 million is provided for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an increase of $144 million above the 2015 enacted level.
- $32.1 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is $2 billion than the 2015 enacted level
To be sure, the budget deal and accompanying tax package were an extraordinary feat of negotiation and compromise in what may have deemed a time of an unprecedented divisiveness in government. We had significant victories. But of course, as is the case with any compromise, everyone walked away feeling like they'd lost out. The Republicans disappointed that the final deal failed to include hundreds of their proposed harmful environmental riders, insisted that their war on EPA continue. And the best way to do that was to strangle the EPA budget.
Since 2010, EPA's budget has fallen 28% -- not counting inflation. According to the Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, these and other reductions to EPA programs will "help the agency return to its core mission of cleaning up environmental problems" rather than "unnecessary regulatory expansion."
That, of course is untrue. When President Nixon established EPA, he called for a "strong, independent agency" which top mission was to "establish and enforce environmental protection standards." http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/birth-epa
As we go into 2016, the Republican leadership again will be pushing anti-environmental bills and strategies, including future budget cuts. They, and their big polluter contributors, want to keep environmental enforcement weak. Because of this, they will continue to pretend that every environmental violation is minor, technical or inadvertent. And if a company goes to great lengths to hide its violations of environmental law--as we saw earlier this year with the VW diesel scandal--Republicans will have no problem blaming EPA for its enforcement failures.
EPA needs more funding for exactly this purpose: to prevent these environmental problems from occurring in the first place and establishing regulations that protect the public. It is precisely by writing and enforcing rules and performing necessary oversight that EPA is able to fulfill its core mission and help prevent the environmental catastrophes that harm the U.S. economy, threaten our natural resources, and hurt American consumers. By continuing to underfund the EPA, Congress fails to provide the agency with adequate resources to fulfill this vital mission.