Hydraulic fracturing, state drinking water and wastewater revolving funds, Superfund, and vehicle fuel efficiency standards were items of high interest among the nearly 30 House lawmakers who grilled EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for over three hours during a hearing on EPA’s budget request for 2013. The Agency is asking for $8.344 billion to fulfill its core missions, according to Jackson, while making “tough decisions” embodied in a 1.2 percent reduction from EPA’s 2012 request. As pointed out by one House Democrat, the Agency’s request constitutes one-quarter of one percent of the administration’s overall $3.8 trillion spending request.
Regardless of their party affiliation, EPA’s proposed budget cut of $37.4 million for Superfund concerned lawmakers with hazardous waste sites in their districts. Jackson noted that the proposed funding reduction would result in no new construction projects. The proposed cut prompted New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone to urge passage of a new bill that would reinstate taxes on oil and chemical companies to pay for Superfund and relieve taxpayers of the burden.
While 40 percent of EPA’s budget would be routed to the states, the $359 million cut to state revolving funds (SRF) for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects concerned several lawmakers. According to Jackson, the backlog of projects nationwide now amounts to $300 billion. She pointed out that the Obama administration’s Recovery Act resulted in an $18 billion infusion into water infrastructure improvements, and that influenced the proposed reductions. Congress can choose to boost SRFs in its final approved budget.
In response to many questions that weren’t specifically tied to the budget, Jackson emphasized the administration’s support of hydraulic fracturing provided it can be conducted in an environmentally safe manner. EPA is currently conducting a two-year study of the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources; additional work on effects on ecosystems and occupational risks is also occurring.
The vehicle fuel efficiency standards were generally praised by the lawmakers. When asked to put the program in terms that could be understood by the average car owner, Jackson explained that the new and upcoming standards will result in an overall $1.7 trillion in fuel savings through 2025; 12 billion barrels of foreign fuel that will not need to be purchased; and an $8,000 fuel savings over the life of a single car. “The standards also position U.S. automakers to compete with automakers around the world,” said Jackson.
Jackson testified that facility permitting under the GHG tailoring rule was progressing without economic disruption. She also answered or said she would provide answers to questions about the level of public disclosure the Agency exercises when it settles law suits or threatened suits; the amount of funding provided to foreign governments, including China; the Agency’s travel budget; the need to increase the enforcement and compliance assurance budget by $33 million; a proposed $3 million reduction to beach and marine pollution programs; the status of state implementation plans under the regional haze program; how the Agency will work with states and utilities to allow two year extensions to come into compliance with the utility mercury air toxic rule; and how the Agency justified a $17,000 grant to a dance company to teach children about air pollution.
Jackson also addressed the matter of unobligated funds, or money sitting in EPA’s bank account at the end of a fiscal year. According to Jackson, these funds related mostly to Superfund construction projects and allow EPA to “have money in place to run a job and bid a job and complete the job and are not necessarily expended or obligated in a precise fiscal year.”
Prepared statements from the House hearing as well as a video of the entire event are at http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings/hearingdetail.aspx?NewsID=9317.