In mid-July, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget bill for the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that cuts vital conservation investments and prohibits EPA from implementing key polices that will better protect our air and water. Agencies funded through the Department of the Interior include the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The approved budget bill also funds the USDA Forest Service.
As adopted by the House, the legislation cuts EPA’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017 by more than $270 million compared with the current fiscal year. It slashes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) by nearly $130 million compared with the current fiscal year, largely by reducing funding to acquire land for national parks and wildlife refuges. The National Park Service would receive a modest increase in funding in its centennial year; however, this small increase does nothing to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog across the park system. The measure provides an additional $200 million to help states modernize drinking water infrastructure, which is positive for Flint, Michigan, and many other communities nationwide with aging drinking water systems.
The House bill is loaded with provisions to prevent federal agencies from implementing policies that would better protect or restore critical natural resources. For example, it bars EPA from implementing the Clean Water Rule. This rule, which the League strongly supports, would restore Clean Water Act protections to streams, wetlands, and other waters. The rule is based on overwhelming science and common sense and is urgently needed to protect streams that flow to drinking water supplies for 1 in 3 Americans and wetlands critical for wildlife, communities, and the outdoor recreation economy. Other provisions would block implementation of the landmark Clean Power Plan, which would substantially improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions nationwide.
The Obama Administration has threatened to veto the bill based on funding and policy provisions. The U.S. Senate did not consider its version of the bill before it adjourned in July. However, that bill, as approved by committee, reduces total Fiscal Year 2017 funding for the same agencies by nearly $164 million compared with the current year.
When Congress returns in September, it will have less than three weeks to approve budget bills before the new fiscal year begins on October 1. It is unlikely that it will meet this deadline, and most pundits expect that Congress will pass stop-gap legislation to fund federal agencies at a minimal level until after the November election or possibly even into early 2017.