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Spending Deal Keeps Government Open, Spares Massive Cuts at EPA -- For Now

An omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government through the end of September calls for a 1% cut in funding and no staff cuts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a far cry from budget and staffing cuts the Trump administration proposed for the agency in the next fiscal year (FY).

According to reports, Congressional Democrats and Republicans averted a government shutdown over the weekend after agreeing to $1.07 trillion in base discretionary funding through Sept. 30, the last day of FY 2017. A vote on the spending bill -- officially, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 -- is expected to occur sometime this week.

"This package of the remaining appropriations bills is the result of over a year's worth of careful and dedicated efforts to closely examine federal programs to make the best possible use of every tax dollar," Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement Monday.

"This legislation will fund critical federal government activities, including our national defense, and enact responsible funding decisions to target U.S. investments where they are needed the most. It also maintains and enhances policies that bolster economic growth and support the core values that our nation is built upon."

Frelinghuysen added that "it is time that we complete this essential work. It is a solid bill that reflects our common values and that will help move our nation forward, and I urge its quick approval by the Congress and the White House."

A detailed summary by the committee shows the portion of the omnibus spending bill devoted to EPA, the Department of Interior (DOI) and other related agencies totals $32.28 billion, a $121 million (0.37%) increase above funding enacted in FY 2016. The committee said the bill includes "policy provisions to stop bureaucratic regulatory overreach that harm U.S. industries and hinder economic and job growth."

Of the aforementioned $32.38 billion, EPA will receive $8.06 billion, a reduction of $81.4 million (1%) from FY 2016 funding and $209 million (2.6%) less than what the Obama administration had requested. The committee said the bill will reduce funding to EPA's research and regulatory programs by $52 million, and more than $300 million below the Obama administration's request. But an additional $7.5 million will be allocated to the accelerated cleanup of Superfund sites.

EPA's staff level will be maintained at 15,000 employees, the lowest since 1989. The committee said the bill also supports two recent executive orders by the Trump administration calling for EPA to review and rewrite certain regulations, including its controversial Clean Water Rule -- which clarifies what constitutes Waters of the United States, thereby deserving protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA) -- and the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

"To stop the EPA's anti-growth agenda that includes various harmful, costly and potentially job-killing regulations, the bill contains a number of legislative provisions," the committee said. These include barring the EPA from "making changes to certain agricultural exemptions under the CWA."

Last March, President Trump unveiled a $1.15 trillion budget proposal for FY 2018 that calls for, among other things, a nearly one-third cut in funding to the EPA, elimination of more than 20% of the agency's workforce, and the scuttling of the CPP. Trump also proposed slashing DOI's budget by $1.5 billion (12%), to $11.6 billion.

The summary of interior and environment appropriations also shows DOI's Bureau of Land Management will receive $1.2 billion in FY 2017, a $15 million (1.25%) increase from FY 2016. "The bill rejects the previous administration's proposal to increase oil and gas inspection fees, which could increase energy costs nationwide," the House Appropriations Committee said.

Meanwhile, a separate summary of energy and water appropriations shows the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other related agencies receiving a combined $37.8 billion -- a $586 million (1.6%) increase above funding enacted in FY 2016 and $495 million (1.3%) more than what the Obama administration had requested.

Energy programs within DOE are to receive $11.28 billion in FY 2017 -- a $257 million (2.3%) increase from FY 2016, but $1.1 billion (9.75%) less than what Obama requested. "Within this total, the bill prioritizes and increases funding for energy programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness and that help advance the nation's goal of an 'all-of-the-above' solution to energy independence," the committee said.

Research and development projects to advance oil, natural gas, coal and other fossil fuel technologies will be funded at $668 million, a $36 million (5.4%) increase from FY 2016. According to the committee, the omnibus spending bill "reflects the national importance of these projects, and rejects the previous administration's proposal to reduce new funding for these accounts."

Trump has proposed cutting DOE's budget by $1.7 billion (5.6%), to $28 billion in total, in FY 2018.

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