EPA Budget Cut to Limit Clean Air Enforcement, Activists Say

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency efforts to protect public health by enforcing clean air and water rules will be undermined by a planned 16 percent budget reduction, environmental groups said.

The agency will lose $1.6 billion as part of a deal between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders to produce $38 billion in spending cuts for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, according to legislation made public today. A plan detailing where the cuts will be made is due in 30 days.

Republicans argued for a larger cut plus provisions that would bar the EPA from enforcing rules on reducing carbon dioxide from power plants and factories. The budget deal accepted by Obama will undermine efforts to reduce pollution from mountaintop coal mining and mercury emissions from power plants, said Gabe Wisniewski, coal campaign director for the environmental group Greenpeace.

“A $1.6 billion cut coming just at the time the EPA is finally waking up and starting to adopt basic safeguards is going to have a significant impact,” Wisniewski said in an interview. “It’s a larger cut than a lot of other agencies and programs are facing, which unfortunately signals a willingness to compromise public health.”

The EPA staff is reviewing the funding levels and will release details when the process is completed, the agency said in an e-mailed statement. “We understand the need to make difficult decisions to ensure the government lives within its means,” according to the statement.

‘Dumped Money’

“The Obama administration has dumped money into the EPA over the past two years, and what the American people have seen as a result is a slew of new regulations pouring out of the agency,” Representative Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho, said in a statement. “These cuts give us the opportunity to take a close look at how the agency is spending its dramatic increases in funding and look at whether the regulations it is putting out are appropriate.”

Obama is scheduled to give a speech tomorrow indicating how he would deal with longer-term fiscal issues and a coming vote on raising the debt ceiling.

The $1.049 trillion legislation is set for a House vote later this week, with a Senate vote to follow, as lawmakers push to bring the first budget fight between House Republicans and the White House to a close. The bill, which would fund agencies to the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, would replace a stopgap measure keeping the government in business through April 14.

Power-Plant Proposal

Last month, the EPA proposed limiting toxins such as mercury, arsenic and acid gases from coal-fired power plants, clearing the way for the first U.S. standards for these pollutants. The regulations would require many power plants to install systems to control the pollutants.

“Such controls are extraordinarily costly with profound impacts on electricity supply and price, and job creation,” according to a report by the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a Washington-based coalition of companies including Atlanta-based Southern Co., the biggest utility owner by market value.

The budget deal would also cut funding for a planned Climate Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and eliminate the position of assistant to the president for energy and climate change. That position, previously held by Carol Browner, is currently vacant.

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