Drinking Water Shift

EPA's Proposed Budget Calls for Shift in Funds From Clean Water to Drinking Water

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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EPA's proposed fiscal year 2017 budget calls for an overall increase of about $60 million. (DTN photo by Nick Scalise)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's $8.2 billion proposed fiscal year 2017 budget announced Tuesday cuts back on federal clean water state revolving funds while the waters of the United States rule remains in legal flux but expands the amount spent on drinking water infrastructure in light of the catastrophe in Flint, Michigan.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said during a press conference Tuesday that the agency planned to make the budget switch before the Flint water contamination problem made national headlines. The agency's proposed budget calls for an overall increase of about $60 million.

Since last year, water in Flint has become so polluted residents were forced to use bottled water, while members of Congress and others began pointing fingers at EPA and Michigan state officials. McCarthy said more funding was needed in a clean water state revolving fund and the drinking water state revolving fund to deal with such problems.

"What we have identified is we have seen some issues that give us a strong indication that money is in greater need in the drinking water side," she said. "What we are seeing here is a shift. Drinking water at this point and time is a priority just above clean water. It is a continued recognition that there is a need to invest in infrastructure."

The Obama administration's budget calls for $979.5 million in the clean water state revolving fund, nearly a $500 million shift from the actual 2015 budget. Conversely, the president's budget for infrastructure assistance in the drinking water state revolving fund calls for about a $100 million increase from the actual $907 million spent in 2015.

House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in a statement Tuesday that the proposed budget maintains EPA's regulatory agenda that is harming farmers. This week the committee is holding a hearing exploring how EPA regulations are affecting rural America. McCarthy is scheduled to testify before the committee Thursday.

"We must also cut regulatory red tape and put America back on a path to growth and prosperity," Smith said in a statement. "Americans can't afford extreme and rushed EPA regulations with little environmental benefit but heavy costs to our economy."

In a 1,133-page justification for the 2017 budget, EPA outlines a few ongoing actions the agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are taking regarding the implementation of the waters of the U.S. rule. The rule is now tied up in court with an injunction preventing it from going into effect.

"The EPA and Army will be providing increased access to jurisdictional determinations, as well as improving aspects of the permit process to address concerns with delay, inconsistency, and lack of information," according to the document. "The EPA also will continue to provide questions and answers on our websites, hold webinars, and develop other resources to assist the public with their understanding of the program.

Agriculture and other industry groups oppose the waters of the United States rule for fear that it expands EPA's control of more waters.

OTHER AREAS

In addition, EPA has proposed an increase in its civil enforcement budget from the $174.4 million enacted for 2016 to $185.7 million for 2017.

In other areas, the president's budget includes $70 million to implement the president's executive order on Chesapeake Bay protection and restoration. That would represent $86 million less than the 2015 budget.

The American Farm Bureau Federation asked the U.S. Supreme Court in recent months to consider a case filed on behalf of farmers and landowners in the Chesapeake Bay region, challenging EPA's enforcement of total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs.

AFBF has asked the high court to consider whether states or the federal government can regulate water quality in the bay.

The 2017 EPA budget includes about $85.4 million in savings coming from the elimination of several programs including beaches protection, categorical grants, state indoor radon grants, as well as water quality research and support grants.

Find more details about the EPA budget here: http://tinyurl.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley