The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding in the 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act finally begins to address years of declining EPA resources and stagnant funding that resulted in a 2021 Agency budget that was half the size, in real dollars, of 40 years ago; a Washington Post report earlier this year described a “lack of resources” severe enough to limit EPA’s capacity for such core environmental protection functions as inspecting facilities, measuring pollution, enforcing environmental laws and writing new rules. The 2023 EPA appropriation takes a tiny step forward, with $575 million in new funding, much of which will help rebuild the agency and restore its ability to implement and enforce the laws protecting our nation’s environment.
While the funding increase is only a modest 6 percent of the EPA budget —less than the current inflation rate and one-quarter of what EPA requested — it is a significant improvement on 2022 funding largely frozen at levels agreed to by a Trump administration, which appeared hostile to EPA and its mission. And the new resources in the 2023 appropriations will be complemented and supplemented with additional EPA funding through recent laws, including last year’s bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and this year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
Key provisions in this year’s appropriation add nearly $450 million to funding for programs and activities that form the lifeblood of our system for protecting the environment. The infusion includes $130 million to enforce and ensure compliance with environmental protection laws and to boost the science EPA relies on to inform and support agency programs and decisions. Another $130 million is for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, addressing toxic chemicals and pesticides and for EPA and state air quality protection. And $140 million will increase EPA and state water protection, including $95 million for geographic programs that fund state actions to protect and restore nationally significant waters like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Finally, it includes a $45 million boost for EPA facilities and resources to analyze, support and review agency actions.
There is no increase for the largest single item in EPA’s budget, $2.8 billion for state revolving loan funds for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, nearly half of which is earmarked for specific projects. But the infrastructure law provides an additional $4.4 billion for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, with nearly half of that provided as grants, rather than low-interest loans. That will make it much easier for disadvantaged communities, which often lack the resources to qualify for or repay loans and have been underserved by the existing programs, to obtain infrastructure assistance. Notably, the infrastructure law also provides $3 billion to replace lead pipes and service lines that deliver drinking water to more than 9 million homes and reduce lead exposure in 400,000 schools and child care facilities, many of them in disadvantaged urban communities.
The infrastructure law also supplements a $1.3 million appropriation for Superfund sites (contaminated by hazardous materials that the EPA has identified as candidates for cleanup) with $700 million for hazardous waste cleanups. And it adds $343 million for geographic programs, bringing total support to $1 billion.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides additional support for EPA environmental protection through $300 million in new funding for clean air protection. The centerpiece is $190 million for air monitoring, much of it for fenceline pollution that imposes heavy pollution burdens on disadvantaged communities, which are notoriously underserved and overlooked by the existing air monitoring system. An upgraded and expanded system will address gaps in coverage, improve detection of pollution hot spots and provide real-time pollution data to front-line and fenceline communities.
In addition, the IRA provides $60 million to reduce diesel emissions in ports. That will supplement this year’s appropriation of $100 million for the diesel emission reduction program.
The IRA also includes substantial resources to advance environmental justice, which has become increasingly central to the agency’s mission, but received only a small increase in the annual appropriation, which denied a $200 million request for new grant programs. But the IRA effectively makes this rejection moot with $3 billion for environmental justice and climate justice block grants. In addition, $8 billion of greenhouse gas reduction program funding is explicitly for grants to assist disadvantaged and low-income communities. Implementing these new IRA programs will require EPA to expand its capacity to identify, communicate and engage with and support disadvantaged communities, key functions of its environmental justice program.
It is critical not to overlook the appropriation’s denial of $400 million in funding for EPA programs, much of it is urgently needed to address backlogs of unmet needs and new or expanded responsibilities. A case in point is EPA’s request to increase toxic substances control support by $65 million, largely to implement new responsibilities and meet new deadlines under 2016 amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Those new responsibilities have doubled EPA’s workload, and the program’s decrepit data management systems are plagued by breakdowns and shutdowns, but its budget has barely increased since 2016. Nevertheless, Congress rejected 70 percent of the needed new funding, approving a nominal increase that means EPA will miss more deadlines and fall further behind in implementing the new law.
Congress must do better and give EPA the resources it needs to meet its responsibilities, rather than pro forma “increases” large enough to pass as increases, but not large enough to do the job.
David F. Coursen is a former EPA attorney and a member of the Environmental Protection Network, a nonprofit organization of EPA alumni working to protect the agency’s progress toward clean air, water, land and climate protection.
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