The House has taken the first step towards advancing legislation to provide funding for programs relating to the Department of the Interior and the environment. Last week, a House Appropriations subcommittee passed the FY2017 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill. It now goes to the full committee for approval before moving to consideration on the House floor.
This appropriations bill provides funding for a number of federal programs overseen by the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that impact planning, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Program, among others.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
Within the Department of the Interior, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) provides funding to the federal government to acquire land for conservation and recreation while also providing matching grants to states for state and local park planning and development.
Over the last decade or so, the State and Local Assistance component of LWCF has received a paltry 12.5 percent of total annual LWCF appropriations. In FY2016, Congress significantly increased funding for LWCF overall, providing $450 million to the program. In addition, they substantially increased their allocation to State and Local Assistance grants, providing $110 million or around 24 percent of total LWCF funding for state and local conservation and recreation projects. While this was a positive first step, Congress must work to fully fund LWCF at its authorized level of $900 million annually and restore equity between federal land acquisition funding and that provided to State and Local Assistance grants.
Instead, however, the House’s FY2017 bill reduces the total LWCF appropriation to $332 and cuts State and Local Assistance grants down to $80 million. This moves in the wrong direction and will continue to make it difficult for states and local communities to get the resources they need to develop and maintain close-to-home parks that can provide substantial health, economic, and social equity benefits to their communities.
Water Infrastructure Funding
The Interior and Environment Appropriations bill is also responsible for funding several key water infrastructure programs overseen by the EPA. These include the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), as well as a program for large water infrastructure projects created by the 2014 Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).
The CWSRF provides loans to help communities improve water infrastructure, while DWSRF loans help communities improve drinking water quality. The House’s FY2017 appropriations bill proposes a 29 percent cut in funding for the CWSRF from last year’s enacted level. It in turn proposes a 24 percent funding increase for the DWSRF. Increased investment in clean, safe drinking water is vital to build healthier communities, but decreased funding for local water infrastructure projects is surprising and unsettling, especially when aging and failing water infrastructure has become a serious concern in communities across the country.
In 2014, Congress created the WIFIA program as a means of providing low-interest rate financing for larger, more costly water and wastewater infrastructure projects that are not supported by the SRFs. Excitingly, the House decided to provide funding for the WIFIA program for the first time since it was authorized. The FY2017 appropriations bill sets aside $45 million for the program in, which is substantially higher than the $15 million requested by President Obama. WIFIA is meant to work as a complement to the SRFs, ensuring larger projects that struggle to attain the necessary funding will now have an avenue in which they can move forward.
As the recent drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan has highlighted, strong water infrastructure is integral to building safe and healthy communities. Therefore, Congress must adequately invest in both water quality and water infrastructure projects that improve individuals’ quality of life around the country.
Other Interior and Environment Appropriations
Appropriations for several other Interior and Environment programs relating to planning were also included in the House bill:
- National Park Service: $2.435 billion in FY2017 ($65 million increase over FY2016 enacted level)
- In addition, the National Park Service would receive $30 in FY2017 million to assist in their Centennial Challenge activities
- Historic Preservation Fund: $78 million ($13 million increase over FY2016 enacted level)
- U.S. Geological Survey: $1.08 billion ($20 million increase over FY2016 enacted level)
- Superfund: $1.22 billion in FY2017 ($130 million increase over FY2016 enacted level)
While legislators are working to move through the normal appropriations process, some obstacles, including controversial policy riders and the compressed legislative calendar this year, make the likelihood of passing appropriations through regular order slim. More likely, Congress will pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open through the elections. However the numbers in the House’s draft bill are important in that they outline the House’s priorities for spending on Interior and EPA programs in FY2017. As the appropriations process moves forward, Congress must recognize the need to invest in close-to-home parks and recreation and water infrastructure while continuing to support other environmental conservation and community revitalization programs.
About the Author
Kirsten Holland is policy associate at Advocacy Associates.
Top image: The Interior and Environment Appropriations bill is responsible for funding several key water infrastructure programs overseen by the EPA, including the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF). Drinking fountain image in the public domain.