House Bill Cuts Spending for Most of EPA’s Workforce by 24%

Ask Your Senators to Vote Against EPA’s Destruction

Oct. 23, 2017
The Senate Appropriations Committee may take up the EPA spending bill soon, with action by the full Senate thereafter.  Meanwhile, the House made deep cuts to EPA’s core programs when approving its version of this legislation, 211 to 198, on September 14, 2017.  We wanted to alert you to the “bait and switch” strategy used to hide these reductions, and to amendments that block EPA action on several fronts.  We hope you will let your Senators and your Representative know how you feel about the damage these budget cuts will do to EPA.

In this document, the hyperlinks to roll call votes (like 221-198) tell you how your Representative voted on key amendments and final passage. The attachments at the end offer more detail and include a fact sheet from the Environmental Protection Network. We’ve also provided a link to a message you can email to your Senators.  Here’s the bottom line:

  • The House bill cuts funding for “Environmental Programs and Management” 24 percent below last year’s level. That will devastate a program that pays for two-thirds of EPA’s workforce and supports critical functions that include writing, interpreting, and enforcing anti-pollution rules, oversight of states that implement those requirements, monitoring and measuring our air and water quality, and setting standards to protect them.
  • The House bill cuts funding for these core functions by 8 percent below the levels in President Trump’s proposal. Meeting that target would require laying off more than a thousand more employees from an agency that has already lost 14.2 percent of its workforce since 2014.
  • These budget cuts were made on the House floor through a series of amendments to restore funding for wastewater treatment grants to last year’s level and shift dollars to other agencies –those increases were offset by slashing the EPA’s Environmental Programs budget and cutting the heart out of the Agency’s workforce.
  • The bill also slashes spending for EPA researchers and scientists 16 percent below current levels.

The House bill (H.R. 3354) cuts total spending for “Environmental Programs and Management” (EPM) 24% below the 2017 amount.  This program covers the engineers, lawyers, scientists, and support staff who write the federal pollution control standards that protect public health and our natural resources, provide oversight and assistance to state programs that implement those rules, and enforce the law when big companies violate the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, or other statutes.  If funds for “geographic programs” are excluded, the House action slashes funding for EPA’s core functions nearly $150 million or 8% below the levels proposed by President Trump for the 2018 fiscal year.

Table 1. Environmental Programs & Management Budget ($ in thousands).

EPA has already lost nearly 2,500 staff over the last three years, and the House budget cuts would require laying off several thousand more.  The 2017 budget for Environmental Programs covers payroll for nearly 10,000 employees, or two-thirds of the Agency’s remaining workforce.  Only 140 of those work in geographic programs, which largely manage grants to states, local agencies, and other institutions.

Clever bait and switch tactics help disguise how the House bill cripples the Agency’s ability to write, implement, and enforce limits on pollution even more than the EPA-hating Trump Administration’s budget request.  For example, the bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on July 21 included nearly $400 million more in funding for EPA Environmental Programs, while cutting wastewater treatment grants $250 million below the amount spent in 2017.  The House reversed that during floor debate on September 7 by approving an amendment to transfer $250 million from EPA’s core functions to the state grants.

That set-up allowed Members to claim they voted to increase funding for sewage treatment upgrades (while actually just maintaining last year’s funding level), without mentioning the deep cuts to programs that determine how much those plants need to limit pollution to protect water quality, and how those limits should be monitored and enforced.  Check out the press release by Congressman Katko (R-NY), the author of the amendment, and you’ll see what I mean.

Amendments approved by the House on Sept. 7 cut another $125 million from Environmental Programs, transferring $75 million to the Department of the Interior for economic development in Appalachian states, restoring $32 million the Appropriations Committee had “cut” for cleanup of abandoned mines (a program obviously important to Mitch McConnell and coal states), and adding $9.6 million to the maintenance budget for National Parks.  These Department of Interior programs deserve public support.  But the sponsors of these amendments aren’t advertising that they obtained the added money by cutting the heart out of EPA.

Table 2. September 7-8 House Amendments Reducing Funds for Environmental Programs.

The House bill also reduces spending for “Science and Technology” – which pays for EPA’s assessment of the health and environmental risks of various pollutants – by 16% below last year’s level.   An amendment to eliminate all funding for EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Division was defeated 178-227, while another to lop an additional $10.2 million from the Environmental Programs enforcement line went down 184-228.  EPA’s budget shows only an 8% reduction overall, because it more or less maintains last year’s spending level for other programs, including the grants that support state agencies and pay for upgrades to drinking water and sewage treatment plants.  The House bill is larded with the usual swarm of special-interest riders to prohibit EPA from doing what our environmental laws actually require.  These include riders that block EPA from implementing:

  • a 2015 rule that limits emissions from oil and gas facilities, overturning a recent DC Circuit ruling that those standards remain in effect until Pruitt’s EPA comes up with a lawful alternative;
  • revised smog standards adopted in 2015 several years after the deadline;
  • any requirement that the factory farms that raise livestock for Tysons, Cargill, and other big meatpackers report their emissions of ammonia and other hazardous pollutants;
  • any laws that would prevent EPA from unilaterally withdrawing the 2015 “Waters of the US” (WOTUS) rule defining the wetlands, streams, and other water bodies protected by the Clean Water Act;
  • any action by EPA to enforce the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan if states fail to do so;
  • the Obama Administration’s Social Cost of Carbon rule, which estimates the long-term damage each ton of carbon dioxide has on climate, and was to be considered in federal agency rulemakings.

It’s clear that the House wants to reduce EPA to writing checks for state programs, with enough left over to cover the cost of Scott Pruitt’s bodyguards and political appointees, the “cone of silence” he has installed to muffle his phone calls, and first class travel to right wing conventions and his home state.

What will the Senate do?  You can help decide by contacting both of your Senators to let them know how you feel about the House cuts to EPA’s budget, and the bait and switch tactics used to hide the damage.

Additional Resources