When a government shutdown was averted earlier this month with the passage of a spending agreement that cut $38 billion from the federal budget, the Obama administration was quick to boast that it avoided serious limits to environmental protection pushed by Republicans.
“We…made sure that at the end of the day, this was a debate about spending cuts, not social issues like women’s health and the protection of our air and water,” President Obama said in a late-night public address. “These are important issues that deserve discussion, just not during a debate about our budget.
It’s true that measures intended to severely hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency were avoided. Republicans were pushing a $3 billion reduction to the agency’s budget—a 29 percent spending cut—and a measure to strip the agency’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases in any form.
In the final compromise, however, the EPA still got a $1.49 billion haircut, a 16 percent reduction and more than other targeted agencies. Moreover, a line-by-line examination of the bill reveals nearly $1.8 billion in additional cuts to other environmental initiatives outside the EPA, which more than doubles the total harm done to environmental protection. Many of these cuts still target climate change-related programs.
The EPA is still reviewing how it will operate with nearly $1.5 billion less than it did last year. In a statement to The Nation, the agency said it was “reviewing the funding levels and will have more details when that review is complete. We understand the need to make difficult decisions to ensure the government lives within its means.”
In comments to Reuters after the deal was struck, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson indicated many of the cuts would come in funding to states to help pay for pollution abatement and to some programs on climate change.
Environmental groups are a little more direct about the effect the cuts will have on the EPA’s agenda. “Republican opponents of EPA clearly have wounded the agency in a big way,“ Frank O’Donnell, the president of Clean Air Watch, told Reuters.