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Budget Bill Slashes EPA Funding by $60M, Cuts Staff to 1989 Level

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will face a $60 million cut in its funding and will have to cut staff to the lowest level since 1989 if President Obama signs the $1.01 trillion spending bill that passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support.

The omnibus spending bill -- HR 83, also known as the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 -- passed the House by a 219-206 vote last Thursday. The Senate followed suit and passed the bill on Saturday, 56-40.

According to reports, the bill allocates $8.1 billion to the EPA. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) said that marks a 21% budget cut since the 2010 fiscal year.

"We are finally securing wins on...EPA overreach...and many other issues that deeply concern my constituents," Graves said. "The bill certainly isn't perfect, and it doesn't solve every problem, but there's a reason why House Democrats said they were being 'taken to the cleaners.'"

Other House Republicans expressed satisfaction that the spending bill targeted their long-time nemesis -- the EPA -- and were happy to lump it in with another foe, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which has been bedeviled by scandals in recent years.

"While far from perfect, this legislation was the result of bipartisan negotiations between the House and Senate," said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who also serves as chief deputy whip. "It maintains spending levels established in last year's budget agreement, spending levels which match the lowest discretionary spending in nine years. Additionally, this bill cuts IRS funding by $345 million, cuts funding for and staffing levels at the EPA, and prevents a taxpayer bailout of big insurance companies."

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) concurred. "We're slashing the EPA staffing levels to the smallest in 25 years and cutting the IRS budget to protect Americans from their political agendas and economic damage...The EPA budget is going to be cut for the fifth consecutive year, and we're going to stop the new job-killing Clean Water Act regulations for farm ponds and irrigation ditches."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted no.

“Instead of giving the EPA the tools it needs to begin dealing with the planetary crisis of global warming, this bill would cut spending by the EPA,” Sanders said Friday, the day before the vote.

But in a potentially troubling sign for the EPA, most of the Senate Democrats who voted against the bill -- specifically, Sens. Barbara Boxer (CA), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Mazie Hirono (HI), Tom Harkin (IA), Ed Markey (MA), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Al Franken (MN), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bob Menendez (NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sherrod Brown (OH), Ron Wyden (OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Maria Cantwell (WA) -- made no mention of the agency’s cuts. Instead, they cited changes to Wall Street reforms and political donations as their reasons for opposing the bill.

Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA), supporters of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, were also silent on the cuts to EPA funding.

The bill passed with strong bipartisan support, especially in the Senate, where 31 Democrats joined 24 Republicans in voting for the measure. In the Republican-controlled House, 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats voted for the bill.

HR 83 effectively blocks any federal funding from going toward determining whether the Gunnison sage grouse or the Greater sage grouse should be added to the list of creatures protected by the Endangered Species Act (see Daily GPI, Dec. 12). The birds' habitat in the Western states is impacted by oil and natural gas development.

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