Full speed ahead for EPA's spending spree

Apr 11, 2014

With the weather finally turning a little more seasonal, spring cleaning seems to be on the minds of more than just homeowners. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is on a roll to clean up a number of different areas, and that clean up comes with a large ticket price.

While the EPA proposed 2015 budget is sitting at $7.890 billion, the 2014 final number is setting up to be about $309.9 million above that.

The latest money is being sent to clean up U.S. ports. EPA is awarding $4.2 million in grant funding for clean diesel projects at six U.S. ports, along with hosting the “Advancing Sustainable Ports” summit to mark the kickoff of a new EPA initiative to recognize ports that take action to improve environmental performance.

“Ports are the main gateway for U.S. trade and are critical to our country’s economic growth, yet the communities surrounding ports face serious environmental challenges,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Most of the country’s busiest ports are located in or near large metropolitan areas and, as a result, people in nearby communities can be exposed to high levels of pollution, according to EPA, making them a key target for improvement.

The grants awarded will help the six ports improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions, by providing $4.2 million in Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) grants to retrofit, replace, or repower diesel engines resulting in immediate emissions reductions in harmful pollution. The grant recipients are the Port of Seattle, the Port of Hueneme, the Port of Tacoma, the Maryland Port Administration, the Virginia Port Authority, and the Port of Los Angeles.

The Port of Hueneme will receive a $500,000 grant to help with the second phase of its shore-side power project, allowing for more vessels to simultaneously connect to the power system.

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), who has worked to help the port find funding for its power system, said she was pleased to hear about the grant.

“Not only will it help improve air quality, but it will allow the port to better compete for business in the international market,” she said.

A vessel plugged into the new $13.6 million system for the first time Friday. It was built to comply with a new California Air Resources Board rule requiring ports to have land-based power available to reduce pollution coming from docked container and cruise ships.

While these port improvements may be getting the green thumb from environmental enthusiasts, the dollar sign attached to the EPA has others questioning their spending choices and there appears to be no break in site.

McCarthy defended the 2015 proposed budget, based on merits of an organization that has become highly controversial.

“This budget is key to a new era of partnerships for the U.S. environmental protection enterprise, where EPA will work hand in hand—with our sister federal agencies, states, tribes, localities, agricultural and manufacturing sectors, small businesses, industry, and other stakeholders—to improve the health of families and protect the environment, one community at a time, all across the country,” said McCarthy. “Our request focuses our resources on the things that really matter to the people of this country. We will seek to make a visible difference—whether it is protecting our precious waters and leaving our children a legacy so they can safely drink water from their small community water systems and fish and swim in their local rivers; reducing air pollution along roadways and neighborhoods; or cleaning up communities to maximize environmental and economic benefits.” Fiscal Year 2015 appears to be heading down another spendy path for EPA’s 64 staff members.

“The FY 2015 budget request includes resources to expand existing efforts to make a difference in people’s everyday lives and make a visible difference in their communities. $7.5 Million and the 64 staff in FY 2015 will work to make that difference, including building on current work by providing green infrastructure technical assistance for up to 100 communities to help them employ cost-effective and sustainable approaches to water management. Research will help with the development and application of new and enhanced technologies for large-scale green infrastructure. Additionally, the agency will focus efforts to enhance our work in environmental justice communities,” EPA writes.

Climate change and air quality concerns will get $1.03 billion of the budget, a $41 million increase compared to FY 2014. Climate change gets $199.5 million of that. The request provides an additional $10 million and 24 staff.

“Addressing the threat from a changing climate is one of the greatest challenges of this and future generations. The request for climate change and air quality is $1.03 billion—over $41 million more than fiscal year 2014. And it designates $199.5 million specifically for climate change work,” Mc- Carthy testified before the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations at a hearing to discuss EPA’s proposed budget.

EPA plans to spend $8 million and put 10 staff members on advancing clean water in 2015, a topic that is nothing short of controversial with the recent proposed changes to the Clean Water Act.

“The (EPA’s) recent attempts to increase its scope and authority have threatened the livelihoods of many Americans, particularly farmers and ranchers. Uncertainty abounds because of EPA’s attempt to over-regulate everything from farm dust to ponds; implement back door cap-and-trade; and stomp out coal-generated power. Despite bipartisan concerns in Congress and from job creators, the agency continues to stretch its powers by proposing onerous, impractical and out-of-touch rules and regulations,” Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) said. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor