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EPA Budget Cut, USGS Constrained in Interior Appropriations

With appropriations committees in both chambers passing their FY 2016 Interior and Environment spending bills in recent weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has again become a focus of controversy, as Congressional Republicans have sought to cut the agency’s funding and limit its regulatory ability. The House Committee passed its bill (H.R. 2822) on June 16, while the Senate Committee approved its version (S. 1645) June 18 amid Democratic frustration. The House is already considering the Interior bill on the chamber floor, though a final vote likely won’t come until the week of June 29; below is a brief look at agency funding levels as they stood following committee approval.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS funding table)

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Avoiding a cut as drastic as EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) would be flat-funded by the House; the Senate granted a small increase, though still 11.4 percent short of the President’s request. Most other Department of Interior (DOI) agencies would remain below the request, and an increase slated for the Fish & Wildlife Service’s science programs was turned down by House and Senate appropriators. 

The Administration had requested a large 41 percent boost for a range of activities in the Climate and Land Use Change program in support of the President’s Climate Action Plan, carbon sequestration, and resilience initiatives. However, in the House bill, Climate and Land Use Change would see an increase of only 2.2 percent. Elsewhere, the Ecosystems program would receive a small cut, whereas the Administration had called for a 12 percent increase to advance ecological and drought research in the WaterSMART program, as well as hydraulic fracturing and wind and solar renewable energy studies. Other USGS programs would remain flat. The Senate did grant some increases for select programs at USGS, including critical minerals, volcano hazard monitoring stations, and the earthquake early warning system.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA funding table)

The House would cut the overall EPA budget by $718 million or 8.8 percent below FY 2015, while the Senate would decrease EPA funding by $543 million or 6.7 percent. According to AAAS estimates, EPA R&D would drop by 5.5 percent and 6.8 percent in the House and Senate bills, respectively. GOP appropriators also included several controversial riders dealing with carbon emissions and wildlife policies that have been vigorously debated by both sides of the aisle.

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EPA’s Science and Technology accounts would either be flat-funded or reduced in both bills. Within the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources account, appropriators argue that EPA’s research to determine whether there is a relationship between hydraulic fracturing activities and drinking water has been sufficient to date, and offer no further funding for these activities in FY 2016. Both sides do provide about $4 million in extramural grants to fund water quality and intelligent water systems research conducted by nonprofit organizations who partner with the Agency.

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

Forest Service

The House also rejected the Administration's proposed increase for U.S. Forest Service research activities, instead providing a sizable decrease below the request, while the Senate recommended flat funding. Both committees would also keep the bureau’s joint fire science program and wildfire research activities flat-funded at the FY 2015 level.

The Interior and Environment bill is currently pending final vote on the House floor while further action remains to be seen from the Senate. Democrats have repeated calls to block appropriations bills that adhere to sequester-level spending limits, while the Administration has reiterated its veto threat.

Cover photo credit: USGS Flickr