Interior-EPA Spending Bill Presents Mixed Bag for Planning

The full House Appropriations Committee has advanced its FY 2018 spending bill for the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) out of committee, proposing cuts to both that would negatively impact many critical programs.

Both DOI and EPA oversee numerous conservation, resilience, community development, and sustainability programs that intersect with the planning profession.

Fortunately, these cuts are not nearly as drastic as those proposed in President Trump’s budget released earlier this year. The President suggested slashing funding for the EPA by 31 percent and cutting DOI’s budget by about 13 percent in FY18.

Comparatively, the House Appropriations Committee has proposed a $560 million cut to EPA (about seven percent) and a $400 million cut to Interior (about three percent).

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

Overall, the House proposed cutting LWCF by $125 million or approximately 31 percent from the FY17 enacted level. Specifically, the LWCF State Assistance program, which provides funding to states and local communities for close-to-home park projects, took a substantial hit with a proposed appropriation of $79 million, $31 million below the FY17 level.

The Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORPL) program, which falls under State Assistance, also saw an unfortunate cut from $12 million in FY17 to just $5 million in the House’s FY18 bill. ORLP is instrumental in directing a small portion of LWCF dollars to urban and underserved communities for park and recreational planning and development.

The substantial cut to ORLP for FY18 likely results from a general pressure from the new administration to make cuts across the board to discretionary programs coupled with a significant delay on the part of the National Park Service (NPS) in releasing the 2016 ORLP grant recipients. In fact, in report language accompanying its appropriations bill, the Committee called upon NPS to speed up the process of allocating ORLP grant funding in the future while recognizing the importance of the ORLP program to community development across the country.

Since the Committee markup, NPS released the overdue and long-awaited list of 2016 ORLP grant recipients.

Water Infrastructure

Infrastructure remains a buzz word within the administration and in the halls of Congress, and appropriators accordingly spent time discussing water infrastructure investment during the Committee markup of their FY18 Interior and Environment spending bill.

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF), which provides low-interest rate financing for drinking water infrastructure projects nationwide, received level funding at $863 million in the FY18 bill.

The Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which provides similar assistance to states looking to upgrade their water infrastructure, saw a harmful $250 million cut. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) sought to restore cut funding for the CWSRF with an amendment during the markup, but the amendment failed with a vote that fell along party lines. Speaking in favor of the amendment’s passage, Kaptur highlighted the need to invest in our nation’s aging and failing water infrastructure, not make cuts.

The House does, however, increase funding for the WIFIA program, which was created by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. Funded for the first time in FY17, WIFIA provides low-interest rate financing for water infrastructure projects that are larger in scale and more costly than those supported by the CWSRF. In its FY18 bill, the House proposed more than doubling funding for the program from $10 million to $25 million.

Other Programs

Several other environmental programs that support community development and resiliency are funded under the House Interior and Environment appropriations bill.

Through the Brownfields program, for instance, the EPA provides cleanup grants and technical assistance to communities seeking assistance in redeveloping contaminated sites such as old dry-cleaning facilities or gas stations. The House suggests a $10 million increase, bringing funding to $90 million in FY18 for this important cleanup and redevelopment program.

The Urban and Community Forestry (U&CF) program, which supports green infrastructure projects in cities, would see a slight cut of about 2.5 percent in FY18 under this bill. The U&CF program helps communities attain funding for much-needed green infrastructure projects that make them safer and more resilient.

And finally, the Historic Preservation Fund, which helps communities protect their cultural heritage, would receive an increase of a little under $10 million, bringing funding to $74.4 million under this legislation.

Policy Riders

Appropriators are generally supposed to simply provide funding for programs already authorized by statute. However, they often attempt to make changes to policies in addition to providing funds.

In this bill, the Republican majority attached several so-called policy riders that, if passed, could harm conservation and sustainability efforts. The most noteworthy rider would make it easier for the Trump administration to repeal the controversial Waters of the U.S (WOTUS) rule implemented by the Obama administration under the Clean Water Act.

Looking Ahead

Congress is already lagging far behind in the normal appropriations process making it likely it will have to pass another continuing resolution to avoid a shutdown at the end of September. However, work on the Interior-Environment appropriations bill and others provides insight into spending priorities and programs Congress would like cut moving forward.

Top image: Trees in Pershing Point Park, Atlanta. The Urban and Community Forestry Program supports green infrastructure projects in cities. Photo by Flickr user Bradley Hutcheman (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

About the Author
Kirsten Holland is policy associate for Advocacy Associates.

July 21, 2017

By Kirsten Holland