EPA fiscal 2017 budget faces cuts over Flint water crisis

The House Appropriations Committee dealt a significant budget blow to the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday as lawmakers debated the agency’s role in the water crisis surrounding Flint, Michigan.

The committee’s spending bill for Interior Department agencies funds the EPA at $7.98 billion for fiscal 2017, a $164 million reduction of fiscal 2016 enacted levels and $291 million below President Barack Obama’s budget proposal.

The bill fully funds the President’s request of $6.5 million for the EPA’s Office of Water to assist communities replace lead pipes that pose a risk for water contamination.

“What occurred in Flint has called greater attention to aging infrastructure and the need for prudent management and oversight of water systems,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, said during Wednesday’s markup.

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in a series of hearings held this year, has accused the EPA of casting a blind eye to contaminated water problems in Flint, Michigan. The agency has also been criticized for its contamination of the Animus River in Colorado.

“As we make these  investments in effective and necessary programs, it’s important that we also take a look at what is not working within our federal government. Without a doubt, the EPA’s regulatory agenda is not working,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the committee chairman.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the committee, argued that these emerging issues with national infrastructure call for more, not less, funding for the EPA.

“The crisis in Flint is a horrifying reminder that starving an agency like EPA causes serious ramifications,” Lowey said. “If the tragedy in Flint has shown us anything, it is that we must invest in our nation’s infrastructure.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Fla.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, said the situation in Flint is a product of a weakening of the EPA and an over-reliance on state agencies to enforce federal environmental law.

“This cut will impact the agency’s ability to protect human health and the health of our environment,” she said. “This year the critical need of the EPA was unmistakeable as our nation watched a tragedy unfold in Flint, Michigan, where children were poisoned by lead in their drinking water. So I find it difficult to reconcile the cuts recommended in this bill [as] we are facing such serious public challenges in this country.”

The appropriations bill provides $32.095 billion overall to the Interior Department — $64 million below current fiscal 2016 spending and $1 billion below the President’s budget request.

The bill provides no funding for the Eisenhower Memorial Commission to build its memorial to the 34th president, but authorizes the commission to build the memorial on its proposed site between the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Education Department.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) called for committee funding of the project, which he said has been drawn out for too long.

“Our nation’s World War II and Korean War veterans want to honor Gen. Eisenhower. Fewer and fewer will ever have that opportunity to visit the memorial if we continue to delay,” he said.

The bill also outlines spending for the following agencies:

  • The National Park Service receives $2.9 billion — $71 million above current fiscal 2016 funding. The boost in funds are meant for reduce the maintenance backlog at parks as NPS prepares for its centennial celebration
  • The U.S. Forest Service receives $5.3 billion — $2.9 billion of which is aimed to prevent and combat forest fires.