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EPA, Interior Face Steep Cuts From House, But Not as Steep as Those Proposed By Trump

Under a $31.4 billion spending bill unveiled Wednesday by the House Appropriations Committee, the budgets of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior (DOI) would get a haircut in fiscal year (FY) 2018, rather than a buzzcut, as proposed by President Trump.

Meanwhile, the Interior and environment appropriations bill, one of 12 to fund the federal government, includes a provision authorizing the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw the controversial Clean Water Rule (CWR), which was promulgated by both during the Obama administration to clarify what constitutes Waters of the United States (WOTUS).

The bill calls for allocating $7.5 billion to the EPA in FY2018, a decrease of $528 million. But under the House bill, the EPA would receive $1.9 billion more than the $5.7 billion Trump suggested allocating to the agency in his budget last May. House lawmakers also pledged $11.9 billion to the DOI in FY2018, slightly more than the $11.7 billion Trump planned to give the department.

"This legislation responsibly supports the agencies and offices we rely on to preserve our natural resources for future generations, and prioritizes our limited funding to programs that protect environmental safety," said House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). "The committee's vigorous oversight has identified opportunities to rein in the federal bureaucracy and to stop many harmful and unnecessary regulations that destroy economic opportunity and hinder job creation."

The $31.4 billion budget bill is $824 million less than the enacted level for FY2017, but $4.3 billion more than the budget proposed by President Trump.

The House Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies began marking up the appropriations bill on Wednesday.

"This markup is the beginning of a long process. I look forward to coming together, as we do each year, to find common ground," said Subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-CA) at the beginning of the markup session. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), the ranking Democrat, countered that the proposed cuts to the EPA were staggering.

"Last month, during the EPA budget hearing, I was heartened to hear several of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle not only reject the administration's reckless budget request, but also acknowledge that the EPA has been systematically cut for the last seven years," McCollum said. However, “the cuts proposed in this bill would further undermine the EPA's ability to protect human health and the health of our environment."

Before the markup session, the appropriations bill earmarked $1.2 billion to the DOI's Bureau of Land Management and $1 billion to the U.S. Geological Survey, amounting to proposed cuts of $46 million to the BLM and $46 million to the USGS.

Last month, the EPA and the Army Corps proposed rescinding the CWR. In its place, the agencies proposed recodifying the identical regulatory text that existed prior to 2015 to define WOTUS. The rule has been opposed by the oil and gas industry, agricultural interests, manufacturers and their Republican allies in Congress since it was first proposed in May 2015.

The bill also stipulates that none of the DOI budget for FY2018 may be used to write or issue proposed rules under the Endangered Species Act to protect the greater sage grouse, or the Columbia Basin distinct population of greater sage grouse. DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered a review of federal plans to protect the ground-dwelling bird last June.

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