Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reading the fine print: EPA still in danger

The Clean Air Act

Many of us were relieved when it appeared that Republican plans to curtail the EPA’s power to regulate air pollution were forestalled.  

Alas, the rejoicing was premature. The New York Times reports that three-quarters of the proposed $1.6 billion dollars in cuts to the EPA budget would come from State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG)—which are what fund states to comply with new federal rules.  Here’s an excerpt from the article
Those cuts, along with a plan to rescind $140 million of unobligated grants from the STAG program, will be a blow to state agencies that are limping due to years of state budget cutbacks... The spending deal also rejects the administration's request for an extra $82 million in grants to help states implement new air pollution rules from EPA, and cuts another $10 million on top of that, he said. 
...Becker said it's "disconcerting" that many lawmakers want to shrink the federal government, but they are doing it by taking most of the money away from state and local agencies. For example, the spending deal zeroes out a $20 million program meant to cut air pollution in smog-choked areas of Southern California.
It isn't fair that "Congress asks the states to carry out the will of these environmental statutes, and then savages the funding required to do these tasks," Becker said. "We're trying to do the job that Congress asked us to do." 
While the cuts to EPA grant programs were mostly in line with the president's request [italics mine] for next year, the deal goes after the agency's own efforts by taking money from EPA scientists and the offices that design the agency's regulations. Scientific programs would get $815 million, down $42 million from fiscal 2010, and environmental programs would end up with $2.76 billion, down 8.8 percent from last year.
Climate change work by EPA and the Interior Department, which were House Republicans' main target on the environmental front, would end up with $49 million less than last year, leaving them $116 million below the president's request for fiscal 2011. But the programs would be allowed to continue, since the House-approved "riders" to stop greenhouse gas regulations and reporting rules were stripped from the bill.
The compromise also takes a slice out of EPA's budget for its hazardous waste cleanup program. The legislation would chop roughly $23 million from the Superfund budget, reducing it from $1.31 billion to $1.28 billion for the remainder of the fiscal year..... it wasn't much to give away for President Obama, who asked for $1.24 billion for the program in his budget request for fiscal 2012. [italics mine]
In other words, the President had nearly sold the store already.

In sum: we really didn't save the Clean Air Act, as there isn’t enough muscle to enforce it. No surprise, really, when you consider that the EPA has already been crippled by funding cuts that forced it to drop thousands of legal actions against companies dumping toxic pollutants into our waterways.

Economic orthodoxy has triumphed again.

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