Cuts for EPA, Flat Funding for USGS in House Interior Bill

The Forest Service also received an increase for research activities amid fights over emissions regulation and EPA in the House committee-approved bill.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took center stage yesterday as the House Appropriations Committee approved its FY 2015 Interior and Environment appropriations bill. The bill, which passed by a partisan 29-19 vote, would cut EPA funding by 8.8 percent from FY 2014 levels, and EPA R&D by 7.2 percent according to current AAAS estimates. The bill also contains several controversial riders to limit EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, which drew strong words from both sides.

The complete bill text and associated committee report can be accessed from the Appropriations Committee's website.

Most other research programs managed to avoid cuts similar to those at EPA, however. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) funding would remain essentially flat from FY 2014 levels, 3.5 percent short of the President's request. Most other Department of the Interior (DOI) programs matched the request, though a Fish & Wildlife Service proposal to consolidate and increase funding for bureau science programs was rejected. Appropriators also rejected the Administration's proposed cuts to U.S. Forest Service research activities, instead granting a 7.8 percent increase for R&D above the request.

U.S. Geological Survey (DOI funding table). Only funding for the Natural Hazards mission area — which includes research related to volcanos, earthquakes, landslides, and associated marine geohazards — would receive an increase above the request under the House committee bill (see chart at right). The increase is entirely due to an extra $5 million for an earthquake early-warning system developed in conjunction with a trio of West Coast universities.

Even so, most mission areas would remain at least flat in the bill, save for Core Science Systems. The largest relative reductions there come from the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program, which had requested an increase for hydraulic fracturing research, though some other projects within the mission area would receive increases. Elsewhere, the committee granted a $3 million increase for the Department of the Interior's climate science centers.

In historical terms, USGS R&D would be roughly even with levels a decade ago; the bureau's R&D budget has essentially fluctuated around FY 2005 levels for the past decade.

Environmental Protection Agency (funding table). As mentioned above, the biggest battleground for EPA is over its attempt to regulate carbon emissions from power plants (for more coverage see the Hill or E&E Publishing). On the budget front, the committee bill also makes some sizable cuts to select EPA science and technology accounts, some of which the Administration had sought to increase (see chart at right). Some of the reductions are due to the committee withholding additional proposed funds for hydraulic fracturing research, though the reductions overall seem fairly broad. The committee did, however, add an additional $4 million for separate extramural research grants for nonprofits focused on water quality.

In historical terms, the House bill would leave EPA R&D funding 35 percent below levels of a decade ago in FY 2005, per inflation-adjusted AAAS estimates, continuing the long-term decline (see chart above).

Forest Service (USDA funding table). As mentioned above, the Appropriations Committee ended up granting a sizable increase above the request for Forest Service research activities. This marks a clear departure from last year's funding cycle, in which House appropriators proposed cutting the Forest Service's R&D programs roughly in half. For FY 2015, the committee also granted the requested $20 million for the bureau's wildfire research activities.

The Interior and Environment bill now awaits action by the full House.