Environmental Protection Agency chief Anne M. Gorsuch appeared to Congress this week to get off the mark and appropriate $2.4 billion in construction grants so the states can build sewage treatment plants.
The money is hung up in the House in a major supplemental appropriations bill that is tentatively scheduled for a vote next week before it moves to the Senate. In the meantime, however, the fiscal year for most state governments will run out at the end of June; if they don't get the federal money soon, they will miss this construction season.
Thirty-four states, Gorsuch said, "are essentially out of funds." She said the appropriations delay has placed 250 ongoing projects in immediate jeopardy and threatens more than 1,000 others.
California is in danger of having to close down its state water pollution control office because 4 percent of the construction grant appropriation is for state management assistance. California, out in front in the New Federalism, manages more of its program than any other state.
Evan Nossoff, of the California Water Resources Control Board, said, "If Congress fails to make that appropriation, we're stuck pretty bad. We don't have money to maintain the staff to review clean water grant projects; we're going to have to make some hard decisions, including the possibility of turning the program back to the federal government."
Because the flow of federal funds has been uncertain during the past decade because of Congress' annual budget dance, California has built and fired "three grant staffs in nine years," Nossoff said.
Mike Quigley of EPA's construction grants office here said California has a unique problem, but that if the grant appropriation does not move quickly "some other states" will have similar difficulties next year.