Out of the Fire and Into the Frying Pan: Congress Passes a Final Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2011

By: Danielle Sugarman

On Thursday, April 14, Congress approved a bipartisan agreement that will fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. The trillion-dollar continuing resolution (CR) passed the House on a 260-167 vote, with 108 Democrats and 59 Republicans in opposition, before moving to an 81-19 approval in the Senate, with four Democrats and 15 Republicans dissenting.  After months of acrimonious disagreement, the White House and Congressional leadership narrowly averted a government shutdown on Friday April 8 by approving by voice vote H.R. 1473, which will become the final CR.

The CR does not include most of the environmental policy riders that Republicans fought to include in the House Continuing Resolution H.R. 1.[1] These riders were aimed at removing EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, air toxics, and mountaintop mining, among other things.  However, the CR does involve spending cuts that will have a significant impact on EPA and other agencies’ efforts to pursue climate and clean energy initiatives.  In particular, the spending deal will have a profound impact on state regulators and local environmental projects.

The CR reduces EPA’s budget by $1.6 billion (16 percent), leaving its 2011 budget at $8.7 billion.   Among the cuts are $49 million from programs relating to climate change, $438 million from programs supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy (including an 18% cut to DOE’s energy efficiency and renewable energy program), $638 million from environmental cleanup efforts by the Defense Department and $997 million from revolving funds through which the EPA provides money for local water treatment and pollution cleanup programs (including a $23 million cut from the Superfund budget).

Three-quarters of these cuts, totaling $1.19 billion, relate to State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG) which primarily fund water infrastructure upgrades and state plans which aid in compliance with new federal rules.  The CR also includes a $191 million cut to regional programs, including president Obama’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  These cuts will be a significant hit to state agencies who are already struggling under years of budget cuts.

The $49 million cut to climate change funding spans across all agencies.  The CR adopts at least one climate change amendment that Republicans had included in H.R.1 which prohibits funding for the establishment of a Climate Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The goal of the Climate Service was to combine all of NOAA’s climate initiatives under one program.  In addition, in the President’s initial fiscal 2011 budget, Obama had requested $25 million to help fund states’ efforts to comply with new climate regulations.  However, this money, along with another $57 million to assist with other new air pollution programs, was rejected in the CR.  This may force states to go to their legislatures for money in order to finance greenhouse gas permitting activity required under EPA rules.

The CR also includes language to remove the Grey Wolf from the endangered species list in states with approved management plans in place.  It would return management of wolf populations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Utah to the states. The rider to de-list the Grey Wolf is the first known instance of Congress directly intervening in the endangered species list, and is in direct opposition to a federal judge’s recent decision forbidding the Interior Department to take such an action.[2]  The bill also includes language to strip funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s “wild lands” order, [3] which directs field managers to inventory wilderness-quality lands and consider protecting them in their natural state.

Overall, federal spending on discretionary programs under the CR would be reduced $39.8 billion below enacted fiscal 2010 levels.  While there are a myriad of restrictions and budget cuts for environmental initiatives that will undoubtedly have wide-reaching impacts, many Democrats were focusing on the positives.  They argue that most cuts appear modest compared to the more drastic measures proposed in the original House budget. However, federal agencies are still in the process of working through the extensive and complex list provided by Congress and trying to determine their potential impact.

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