Can Congress Rein in One Agency's Spending?

EPA is an excellent candidate for oversight and review in the new Congress

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970 to consolidate federal pollution control responsibilities that had been divided among several agencies. EPA’s responsibilities have grown significantly as Congress, under the Democrats, have enacted an increasing number of environmental laws as well as major amendments to the statutes.

Congress funds these EPA programs and activities within the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, appropriations bill.

Without adjusting for inflation, appropriations for EPA have increased from approximately $900 million when the agency was established in 1970 to a peak level of $14.86 billion in 2009. This gives you some idea as to why this country has the huge deficit it presently experiences.

Because Congress may soon enact budgets or pass continuing resolutions, I thought it might be interesting for those of us in agriculture to examine EPA’s budget. There are a number of new congressmen coming to town who want to cut it.

They will find that EPA’s budget justification numbers more than 1,000 pages and presents an array of funding, programmatic and legislative proposals for congressional consideration. EPA is a perfect example of the explosion in government expenditures and personnel. It is also an excellent candidate for oversight and review by the new Congress.

On September 30, 2010, Congress enacted a continuing resolution to allow continued federal spending for government operations through December 3, 2010. It appears Congress has passed another continuing resolution to fund EPA until a 2011 budget is approved.

A new congressman will have a tough time getting a handle on EPA because EPA’s funding will be appropriated by Congress through 8 statutory accounts. EPA’s eight accounts are as follows:

Science and Technology - This account funds the agency to issue thousands of contracts to help it develop scientific knowledge to help EPA create new pollution control regulations and standards. This account funds not only EPA’s laboratories but allows it to contract with nonprofit organizations, universities and private businesses. This appropriations account helps create a large lobbying force to increase funding in this account.

Environmental Programs and Management - This account funds the agency’s development of pollution control regulations and standards. It also funds enforcement, technical assistance to state pollution control agencies and if congress wants to cut personnel, this is the program to cut because EPA’s administrative and operational expenses are funded out of this account.

Office of Inspector General - This office was established in 1978 and is intended to conduct independent auditing, evaluation and investigation of the agency’s programs and activities. Congress appropriates funds directly to EPA’s Inspector General.

Buildings and Facilities - This account funds construction and repair of equipment and facilities owned by EPA.

Hazardous Substance Superfund - This account is funded by discretionary appropriations. It was established as the Superfund Trust Fund following passage of the Superfund law in 1980. This fund originally derived its funds from taxes on the oil and chemical industries but that taxing authority expired in 1995. Congress now finances this trust fund with revenues from the U.S. Treasury.

Oil Spill Response Fund - This account is authorized by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. This account provides monies for EPA’s actions to prevent releases of oil into inland navigable waterways. The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over oil spills in the coastal waterways of the U.S., which we have seen operate during the BP disaster.

The Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund Program - This account is funded by discretionary appropriations and it is also financed by a 0.1 cent per gallon tax on motor fuels which is set to expire on September 30, 2011. Monies in this program go to implementing and enforcing EPA’s underground storage tank leak prevention and detection program.

State and Tribal Assistance Grants - This account is for making grants to the states for state revolving funds to build clean water and drinking water facilities. In other words, this goes to building sewage treatment and water treatment plants.

During the holidays, you may want to bring attention to your Congressman or Senator that EPA has these eight accounts and that they would be fertile areas for oversight.

EPA has some interesting programs in its proposed budget. It continues its effort to reduce emissions from diesel powered vehicles, engines and equipment, which means EPA will be looking closely at the diesel equipment we use on our farms. In fact, EPA is seeking $200 million to develop diesel emission reduction projects.

On climate change, EPA will be 1 of 17 agencies receiving appropriations for climate change activities. EPA is seeking over $205 million to cover its climate change research and implementation activities. This will be $163.6 million increase over EPA’s expenditure in 2010.

More bureaucracies, more spending EPA is also seeking to establish a National Climate Service which would be a program broader than the climate services presently offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is difficult to determine how much of the $205 million will be spent on possibly developing another new bureaucracy within EPA.

One final item of particular interest for those in the Midwest is EPA’s request for new funding of $17 million to address pollution runoff from farms in the Mississippi Basin.

EPA will use this money to control nonpoint source pollution, which will be intended to lessen the severity of the oxygen depleted dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. EPA claims it wants to “promote sustainable agricultural practices” which will reduce nutrient loadings into the Mississippi.

Apparently USDA and its experts, along with American farmers, do not know how to promote sustainable agricultural practices. EPA is quite anxious to show the way.

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