On Dec. 16, President Obama signed into law an omnibus appropriations package that will fund the federal government for the remaining nine and a half months of Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15).
The $1.1 trillion package funds all of the federal agencies except the Department of Homeland Security. The FY15 omnibus appropriations package will fund the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $8.14 billion — a $60 million cut from the FY14 enacted level. The bill also reduces EPA staffing to numbers equal to those in 1989. The bill will fund the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs at levels equal to FY14: $1.449 billion for clean water programs and $907 million for drinking water. There is also $2.2 million in funding for EPA to hire staff and continue to stand-up the recently authorized Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority (WIFIA) loan program.
The omnibus package does not include an expected policy rider to stop the EPA from developing and implementing the Waters of the U.S. proposed rule. It does, however, include a rider forcing EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw a controversial “interpretive” rule that is intended to clarify agricultural conservation practices deemed exempt from Clean Water Act dredge-and-fill permits. Critics say the interpretive rule is rife with legal problems and other flaws. EPA has stated that it intends to finalize the Waters of the U.S. rule in April 2015. Since Republicans control both the House and Senate, there is a possibility that they will push through legislation to halt the proposed rule, but that bill would need enough votes to override a likely veto from the President.
The appropriations package also includes language supporting EPA’s development of guidance for the agency’s Integrated Planning Framework, but no additional funding. However, EPA is directed to maintain technical assistance and outreach to communities seeking to develop an integrated plan.
The appropriations package also will fund Clean Water Act Section 106 grants at the FY14 enacted level of $230 million, which includes a $17.8 million monitoring set aside. However, the overall amount is $18.3 million below the Administration’s request. Section 319 Nonpoint Source Program funds are maintained at the FY14 enacted level of $159 million.
Key funding for the EPA will include $47 million to support enhanced real-time monitoring of coastal and estuarine water quality related to areas affected by extreme weather events and $91 million to support cleanup of leaking underground storage tanks, which can also be used to address groundwater contamination.
FY15 funding for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the omnibus package is $1.045 billion, an increase of $13 million from FY14. The National Water Quality Assessment program is funded at $59.46 million. USGS funding also includes $34 million for the USGS National Streamgage Program and $2.6 million for the National Groundwater monitoring Network.
U.S. Department of Agriculture funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service is $846 million and includes $12 million for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program, $464.8 million for the Rural Utilities Program that funds water infrastructure, and $79 million in disaster relief spending for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
The Economic Development Administration will receive $250 million, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will be funded at $5.44 billion, including $481 million for the National Ocean Service and $822 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will receive $1.1 billion, a $14 million increase over 2014 enacted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will get $1.4 billion, a $12 million increase over 2014 enacted. Finally, in FY15 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will receive $5.483 billion, of which $1.64 billion is for construction, $3 billion for operations and maintenance, and $122 million for water resource studies.