House Appropriations Bill Harms EPA, Interior Programs

The House has passed one of its 12 appropriations bills, outlining funding levels for the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in FY2017.

Unfortunately, numerous provisions in this bill would prove harmful to nationwide efforts to build healthier, more resilient communities.

Last month, during committee consideration of the bill, cuts to vital programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund emerged. Such cuts would hurt communities’ efforts to provide outdoor recreational space and safe, updated water infrastructure for their residents.

 The bill that came out of committee also aimed to block an EPA rule pertaining to the Clean Water Act and halt administration efforts to proceed with their Clean Power Plan. For more information on the cuts to critical Interior and EPA programs as well as some other funding levels included in the committee’s bill released last month, check out this blog post.

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bill is prone to controversial riders. Last year, the same bill died on the floor before a final vote due to controversy over the display and sale of the Confederate flag on federal land. In order to prevent the bill from being derailed during floor debate this year, House majority leadership decided to limit the amendments allowed for consideration.

During floor debate, several additional concerning amendments were added to the bill. Among them was a measure to prevent the administration’s implementation of its National Ocean Policy, which aims to protect ocean health and boost coastal resilience planning.

In addition, lawmakers approved a further cut of $110 million in EPA funding; the committee had already cut the agency’s funding by $164 million for FY2017 prior to consideration of the bill on the floor.

Other amendments, which ultimately passed, aimed to block a variety of EPA rules, including one that would regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal land. Democratic efforts to strike these cuts and policy riders were by and large defeated.

While most of the amendments that passed were detrimental to environmental conservation and resilience efforts, a measure introduced by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) moved to increase funding for state and tribal assistance brownfields grants by $10 million. This measure passed by voice vote. The brownfield program provides grants to communities to clean up and redevelop mildly contaminated sites like old gas stations or dry cleaners. Increased funding for this program can help boost economic development in communities around the country.

Due to the many “poison pill” riders and harmful spending cuts included in this bill, the White House has threatened to veto it. However, it’s unlikely it will even make it to President Obama’s desk. Congress has now gaveled out for party conventions and August recess, and the political will to move normal appropriations forward when they return in September is unlikely ahead of a contentious election. Instead, legislators will likely pass a stopgap continuing resolution to maintain level funding for government programs through the elections and prevent a government shutdown.

About the Author

Kirsten Holland is policy associate at Advocacy Associates.

Top image: Implementation of the administration's National Ocean Policy was blocked in the House appropriations bill. Here, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hydraulic engineer checks out a sand dune in Maryland after a storm in early 2016. Photo by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

July 15, 2016

By Kirsten Holland