Existing environmental protection and climate policies appear mostly safe for the remainder of fiscal year 2017 after lawmakers reached a deal Sunday night on an omnibus spending bill that would keep the government open through September.
The bill sets the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget at about $8 billion, $81 million below the current operating level. For the remainder of the fiscal year, all current EPA staff positions, totaling about 15,000, would be protected. In the so-called “skinny budget” for next year, President Donald Trump has proposed a 31 percent cut in the EPA’s budget.
Since October 1, the federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution that froze 2017 spending at most agencies at FY 2016 levels and generally prevented them from starting new programs.
The new budget deal is expected to be approved by both chambers of Congress this week; Trump has indicated he will sign the bill, Reuters reported. Congress will need to clear the spending package before current appropriations under a continuing resolution expire at midnight on Friday.
Other climate-related line items in the omnibus budget agreement remained mostly unscathed. The legislation contains $5.7 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $90 million below the current level. And it includes $517.4 million for NOAA’s National Ocean Service’s operating expenses, $17.3 million more than the current level.
At the National Ocean Service, climate research would continue at the FY 2016 level of $158 million. Increases would be provided for NOAA’s Weather and Air Chemistry Research and its Ocean, Coastal, and Great Lakes Research.
The EPA program that helps communities improve the water quality in their drinking supply will remain fully funded at the previous year’s level. As part of the budget bill, the city of Flint, Michigan will receive $100 million to upgrade its drinking water infrastructure.
“We have some sense of relief that the budget for EPA is coming down at only 1 percent less than last year. We still believe that no cuts were warranted, that we’re basically stretched to the limit in terms of what we do, and we need that full budget,” Michael Mikulka, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, the union representing employees of EPA Region 5, told ThinkProgress. “But 1 percent, we can live with that.”
Reports surfaced in April that the Region 5 office, located in Chicago, would be one of two EPA regional offices closed to meet the administration’s budget-cutting goals for the agency. Mikulka said his union is trying its best to prevent the closure of the office. “I appreciate the help of the senators and congressman who stood up for EPA Region 5 and the work we do because the work we do is important,” he said.
But the current budget deal does not offer Mikulka any solace heading into the fight over the FY 2018 budget later this year. “I don’t believe that the administration is trying to do a realistic budget cut for the EPA. Basically, what they want to do is dismantle the agency,” he said.
Paul Getsos, national coordinator for the People’s Climate Movement, believes Congress “took a solid first step” in rejecting the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA by proposing to fund it at almost current levels until September. “However, this Congress needs to continue to stand up to an administration that favors corporate profits over clean air and water and places our workers, communities and our people at great risk,” Getsos said in a statement.
The Sierra Club was troubled by the agreement to cut $81 million from the EPA’s previous budget. But the environmental group acknowledged the agreement could have been worse.
“The worst parts of Trump’s proposals have been fended off thanks to massive public pressure on Congress that culminated in hundreds of thousands marching in DC and across the country on Saturday,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement. “However, there are still many troubling provisions in this deal that prioritize corporate polluters and their profits over clean air, clean water, public lands, and the health and safety of communities across the nation.”