From E&E Daily — APPROPRIATIONS: Controversial cuts, riders expected as House subpanel votes on EPA, Interior spending

  • by BPC Staff
  • on July 8, 2014

An E&E Publishing Service

APPROPRIATIONS: Controversial cuts, riders expected as House subpanel votes on EPA, Interior spending  (Tuesday, July 8, 2014)

Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter

Congress’ annual tug of war over funding the Interior Department and U.S. EPA will push off this week with a House Appropriations subcommittee markup that is unlikely to lead to stand-alone legislation.

The House Interior and Environment subpanel will mark up its fiscal 2015 bill tomorrow. Details of the legislation will be available later today, but the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), seems unlikely to grant Interior and EPA the full $11.9 billion and $7.9 billion, respectively, they have requested for fiscal 2015.

The president’s budgetary blueprints for the two agencies pared back funding for EPA but requested a small increase for Interior. But it is likely that the GOP-controlled House will approve cuts to both in the name of fiscal responsibility and, in the case of EPA, curbing regulation.

Interior’s Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) has been a frequent target for reductions, even though it enjoys broad bipartisan support. The administration asked for $900 million for the nation’s premier land acquisition program, but in the past, the House panel has started by cutting the program, in part to preserve a negotiating position.

“You have to remember that this is the start of a long process,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the former chairman of the Interior and Environment subpanel, in a recent interview. Simpson said that one favorite target was LWCF, because he knew that the Senate would add the funding back in when it came time to go to conference. The lower numbers in the House allowed him to preserve other programs that would otherwise have had to be cut to comply with House spending limits.

“So I tell people, don’t get too fired up about the chairman’s mark or the bill as it goes through the House, because the conference is where it’s written,” he said.

The president’s budget already cuts $581 million from the 2014 enacted levels for the Drinking Water and Clean Water state revolving funds, other popular programs that have sometimes been used for negotiating purposes. The two funds would receive $1.8 billion for fiscal 2015 under the president’s request.

The House panel might move to restore funding for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant program, a popular initiative that offers money to states for retrofitting cars and trucks with dirty engines. The fiscal 2015 budget would have zeroed it out.

Besides weighing in on funding levels, it is likely that the bill unveiled today will include some language aimed at curtailing EPA’s air and water regulatory agenda. Likely targets for policy riders include EPA’s carbon dioxide rules for new and existing power plants, and its proposed rule to change a Clean Water Act definition to increase the number of streams and wetlands that currently receive automatic protection.

Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) warned EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at a hearing this March on her agency’s budget that the Clean Water Act proposal “ain’t going to happen.” Opponents of the change characterized it as an “expansion” of federal jurisdiction that is likely to have broad effects on industry. The spending bill will almost certainly contain language designed to kill it.

But while House Republicans have tried repeatedly in past years to use the appropriations process to combat everything from EPA’s CO2 rules to rules already in place for mercury, smog and soot, most of those efforts have died in the Senate. A fiscal 2011 rider to downgrade the level of protection afforded to the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act was a rare exception.

And this year, Senate leaders have signaled they won’t spend time on legislation that is likely to be weighed down with controversial amendments targeting EPA.

A bill to fund the Energy Department and other agencies was pulled from the floor last month when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved to include an amendment that would have barred EPA from promulgating power plant rules until other agencies certified that the rules would have no effect on job creation.

But despite the GOP’s scant success at enacting policy provisions, environmentalists remain concerned that a rider could make it into a continuing resolution at the end of the fiscal year.

“They’re clearly pursuing a strategy of adding these to every bill they can, so that when we get to the end of the year and have to have a final decision on funding the government, they have a menu of poison pills to choose from,” said Franz Matzner of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Schedule: The markup is Wednesday, July 9, at 10 a.m. in in B-308 Rayburn.

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