As the number of legislative days dwindles before Congress leaves town for the conventions in mid-July, legislators are working to move through the appropriations process to determine funding levels for federal programs in the next fiscal year.
Last week, the Senate Committee on Appropriations passed the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, clearing the way for possible consideration of the bill on the Senate floor.
This appropriations bill provides funding for programs at the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that support conservation, local parks, economic development, and stronger infrastructure and resiliency in communities across the country.
The House Appropriations Committee has already passed their version of this bill, which made substantial cuts to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, but provided $15 million more than the Senate for the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Investment Act (WIFIA) program. You can find details on specific funding levels included in the House bill here.
Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Senate’s bill cut the overall funding level for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by $50 million, but maintained level funding at $110 million in FY2017 for the LWCF State Assistance program. LWCF State Assistance provides matching grants to states and local communities for park planning and development. In addition, the Senate maintained level funding at $12 million in FY2017 for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program, which falls under LWCF State Assistance. The ORLP program reserves a portion of State Assistance dollars for urban and economically disadvantaged communities to ensure money for park planning and development is directed to underserved areas where 80 percent of Americans live.
In FY2016, Congress more than doubled funding for the LWCF State Assistance program and quadrupled ORLP funding. The House’s FY17 bill made unfortunate cuts to both programs, but the level funding included in the Senate bill is exciting; it demonstrates legislators’ interest in ensuring park funding is directed to urban and local communities.
Water Infrastructure Funding
The FY2017 Senate appropriations bill also addressed funding for several important water infrastructure programs overseen by the EPA. These include the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which provides loans to help communities improve water infrastructure, and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), which grants loans to help communities improve drinking water quality. It also includes a program created by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which provides low-interest rate financing for larger, more costly projects that are not supported by the SRFs.
Likely as a result of the recent drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the House increased funding for the DWSRF by $207 million over the FY16 enacted level. Similarly, the Senate increased funding for the DWSRF, but by a more modest amount of $157 million. The House’s increase, however, was coupled with a 29 percent cut in the CWSRF.
The Senate proposed a much smaller cut of about 3.6 percent to the CWSRF. Increased investment in drinking water quality is incredibly important, as the Flint water crisis demonstrates, but it should not come at the expense of funding for the CWSRF, which is integral in helping communities update aging and failing water infrastructure around the country.
For WIFIA, the Senate proposes $30 million in funding in FY2017. The WIFIA program, which was created by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, has yet to receive Congressional appropriations. The Senate’s proposed $30 million for WIFIA is $15 million below the House’s proposal.
The fact that Congress is proposing appropriations for WIFIA is exciting as it will provide a way to finance large, costly water infrastructure projects that have, in the past, had trouble securing the necessary funding.
Other Interior and Environment Appropriations
The Senate FY2017 appropriations bill also outlines funding levels for several other programs at the Department of Interior and the EPA relevant to planning:
- National Park Service: $2.406 billion in FY2017 ($36 million increase over FY2016 enacted level and $29 million below House proposal)
- In addition, the National Park Service would receive $20 in FY2017 million to assist in their Centennial Challenge activities ($10 million below House proposal)
- Historic Preservation Fund: $68 million ($3 million increase over FY2016 enacted level, $10 million below House proposed level)
- U.S. Geological Survey: $1.068 billion ($8 million increase over FY2016 enacted level, $12 million below House proposal)
- Superfund: $1.08 billion in FY2017 ($80 million decrease over FY2016 enacted level, $40 million below House proposal)
- Brownfields projects under the State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG): $80 million (level with FY2016 enacted level and House FY2017 proposal)
- Brownfields Environmental Programs and Management: $2.593 million (level with FY2016 enacted level and House FY2017 proposal)
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have said they are committed to continuing to work through the full appropriations process. However, the condensed legislative calendar and the political environment that results from an election year make the likelihood of passing an all twelve appropriations bills through regular order slim.
The Interior and Environment Appropriations bill has yet to be considered on the floor in the House or the Senate, but it is often one of the more controversial appropriations bills due to numerous policy riders that often get attached to the bill. However, with both the House and Senate version of this bill now public, we have a clear idea of the priorities in each chamber.
To support communities working to improve public health, conserve outdoor space, promote social equity, and boost resilience, appropriators in Congress must robustly invest in a wide array of environmental programs in FY2017.
About the Author
Kirsten Holland is policy associate at Advocacy Associates.
Top image: Closeup of water infrastructure in the streets of New Orleans. Photo by Flickr user Shanna Riley (CC BY-SA 2.0).