Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson today questioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator regarding the President's FY14 budget proposal for the EPA. As Chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, Simpson oversees the EPA's budget. During the hearing, Simpson focused on water infrastructure and the need to reduce federal spending.
Over the past two years that Simpson has chaired the subcommittee, he has cut the EPA's budget by over 20 percent. In his opening statement, he responded to criticism of these cuts. "Let's not lose sight of the bigger picture," Simpson cautioned. "Between 2009 and 2010 the Interior bill increased by $4.6 billion and EPA's budget increased by $2.65 billion. This was an unprecedented 35 percent increase in EPA's budget in one year alone. With that in mind, the FY14 budget would still provide EPA with a half a billion dollar cushion."
"I highlight this point to provide context for the ongoing discussion about the continued need to reduce Federal spending," he continued. "It also exemplifies the degree to which unchecked spending was the norm in Washington just a few short years ago. And even with the targeted reductions to the Agency's budget over the past three years, we still have yet to break even."
Chairman Simpson also raised the issue of funding for water infrastructure. Earlier this year, he hosted an oversight hearing on this issue, looking at funds appropriated to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and the infrastructure needs throughout the country. The State Revolving Funds start with federal seed money provided to state and local communities as loans with matching requirements.
"As I understand it, these funds were eventually supposed to be self-sustaining. Is there a point at which that happens so that these communities have access to the funds they need for their water systems? In the hearing we had on this issue, it was said that there was a $700 billion backlog, and doing this at $2 or $3 billion a year it'll take us almost 250 years to address all the needs out there," said Simpson. "Unfortunately, the $2 billion we put into this each year puts huge pressure on the rest of our budget, but it doesn't address the problem. This is a huge problem and we need to come up with a solution. How do we get from point A to point B?"
In light of these concerns, Simpson criticized the agency's budget priorities, particularly the choice to eliminate funding for the rural water technical assistance grants. "It's a tough budget year, so I assume that you reduced lower priority things and funded the higher priority things," Simpson said. "So it seems like what you're saying is that [a new EPA building in Las Vegas] and a new public outreach program are more important than the rural water technical assistance. I guess I'm questioning your priorities At some point we need to ask ourselves whether we prefer to cut everything just a little bit in order to get the deficit under control -- and in doing so we fund all programs at a reduced rate which may help no one -- or do we decide to eliminate a few programs that have run their course."