Indian Head, Md., won’t get the nearly $1 million it has requested to improve sewer lines and rehabilitate manhole covers. Wyandotte County, Kan., has suspended its hazardous-waste public awareness programs. And Virginia will scale back the studies it is conducting to evaluate nitrogen runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.
“The federal government and state grants are both shrinking while our demands are increasing exponentially,” said Andrew Ginsburg, air quality division administrator at Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality. “We’re definitely feeling the crunch here.”
The EPA was a central target for Republicans during the spring budget battle, as they tried to curtail its authority to curb greenhouse gases, mercury and other pollutants. Although lawmakers failed to secure those provisions, they limited the agency’s activities through budget cuts.
But as lawmakers and local officials assess the impact of those cuts, few seem pleased with the outcome.
“We made some tough choices in there,” EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe said in an interview. “We’re very close to the edge where you start to erode the capacity of the agency.”
S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said lawmakers didn’t realize that targeting EPA’s budget meant “that they’re cutting jobs at the state and local level. If they knew that, maybe Congress might have acted differently.”
Key Republicans say the cuts have failed to reshape the agency the way they had envisioned.
“By stepping into the process in the middle of the year, we weren’t able to provide the kind of details you can when you’re doing an appropriations bill from the outset,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and a frequent EPA critic. “The EPA made a lot more decisions in how they made the cut, and I certainly don’t agree with how they made the cut or spent the money.”
In fact, many of the funding decisions the EPA made this year were based on a mandatory formula, since $1 billion of the overall reduction affected just two programs helping underwrite clean-water and drinking-water projects.
“This is one of the problems with cutting EPA’s budget. You look at a lot of their programs and they are pass-through programs,” said House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), referring to programs whose funds flow directly from the agency to the states. “When you’re reducing the budget, those programs are going to go down substantially.”