House T & I Committee Looks at FY 13 Budget Request for EPA

On March 28th, the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee held a hearing to learn more about EPA’s FY 13 budget request. Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Nancy Stoner and Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus of the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER) testified before the Subcommittee.

Opening statements from members of the Subcommittee ranged across numerous issues but centered around concerns about regulatory overreach and impacts to the economy; decreased funding for the CWSRF and DWSRF; coal fired power plant restrictions; “waters of the US” definitions; and restoration of Superfund fees and penalties.

Nancy Stoner spoke about the FY 13 budget request as focusing on the Agency’s core mission. She emphasized that clean water is essential to public health, vital for a healthy economy, and necessary for continued protection of the environment. Stoner said that although the FY 13 budget request for water programs reflects approximately 9% less than funding levels enacted in FY 12, the requested funding will allow the Agency to achieve its core responsibilities. This would be achieved through a combination of targeted program reductions and carefully selected investments. In particular, she noted that the SRFs’ combined funding of $1.9 billion when coupled with state resources will support 500 new clean water and 400 new drinking water project starts. This amount, she stated, is adequate to maintain program integrity. Stoner also spoke of the Agency’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure Policy that identifies multiple benefits from a single investment through an analysis of various infrastructure options – such as green infrastructure – that can be added to the existing array of planning and operational tools.

Stoner briefly walked through issues relating to the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes programs and highlighted efforts to reduce nutrients and sediments in the Bay and levels of toxic pollutants in the Lakes. She also highlighted increases to state programs such as the Water Pollution Control grants that support water quality monitoring, permitting, and enforcement efforts for state wastewater programs and noted that at least $15 million of the FY 13 funding allocation is designed to go toward nutrient management efforts at the state level. Stoner explained that these efforts, if coupled with other programs such as nonpoint source (Section 319) protection initiatives and coordinated with USDA efforts, will be effective in enhanced environmental protection.

Mathy Stanislaus described how the FY 13 budget request for OSWER will help to both clean up contamination and create jobs. He noted that the budget request includes $164.7 million for Brownfields initiatives and $1.176 billion for Superfund cleanups. He pointed out that these funds will be used only for ongoing cleanup and remediation efforts rather than toward any new project starts. He noted that the return on Brownfields investments are approximately $18 for each $1 invested and that, for Superfund, EPA has collected more than $4 billion in fines and fees from more than 1,000 site specific accounts.

During the Q&A session, it became clear that neither Democrats nor Republicans were pleased with the decreased requests for the CWSRF and DWSRF programs. Representatives expressed concern that the approximately $360 million in combined Fund cuts would affect the effectiveness of the tool. They expressed further worries that an estimated 18.5% cut over five years (as identified in the latest Ryan budget resolution proposal in the House) would cripple the Agency’s ability to function even at the core mission level and that should the January 2013 Sequester take place (additional budget cuts to all existing funding levels in Federal discretionary programs such as EPA), then the Agency’s budget would be decreased by approximately 30% from current levels.

In other areas, when asked about the status of the “waters of the US” issue, Stoner replied that the Agency received more than 230,000 comments with most asking that the proposed definition be further clarified. Stoner was also asked about the status of the fracking study and indicated that the “first installment” will be released at the end of 2012 with the full study to be completed in 2014. She did state that she was confident that no final recommendations would be made until the peer review process has been completed.