Our Voices Heard: Congress Funds Clean Water, Air and Land Programs in Spending Package

Around this time last year, I was asked to give a presentation on environmental issues at a workshop being held by Georgia Women (and Those Who Stand With Us). The session’s focus was on cuts the new administration was proposing to US environmental programs and what could be done about it. The news was bleak: The new Trump Administration was proposing to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget by 31%, the largest cut to any federal agency. To counter this news, we strategized ways to ensure our decision makers understood that these cuts were unacceptable and would harm our communities.

Since that time, individuals and organizations—from local river groups, national conservation organizations such as River Network and members of the Clean Water for All coalition, to community groups such as Georgia Women—have told the President, the EPA Administrator, and their members of Congress that we need a well-funded EPA because our communities depend on the agency’s programs to protect and restore our air, land, and water. To support these efforts, River Network published our Federal Budget Toolkit and shared regular updates through email, social media, and other communications.

These collective efforts paid off. Last week, Congress passed and the President signed an omnibus spending package that rejected the proposed cuts to EPA and other environmental programs. Congress increased the funding for EPA beyond levels for fiscal year 2017. Also, a number of anti-environmental riders that had been added to the budget bill were not included in the final bill that was adopted.

Important wins included additional funding for Superfund cleanups, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act grants, and programs to address lead in drinking water. And the bill funded signature geographic programs focused on the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, and the Delaware River, as well as support for state and tribal water quality programs, at the same levels as in fiscal year 2017. The bill also included increased funding for the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Fortunately, anti-environment policy riders were mostly kept out thanks to efforts demanding a “clean budget,” including a proposed rider that would have exempted the Administration’s efforts to repeal the Clean Water Rule from public input requirements. Unfortunately, a rider exempting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from having to report their hazardous air emissions was added at the last minute and was included in the final bill.

Now that the FY2018 spending package has been signed, we must continue the momentum. The bill passed last week only funds the government through September 2018. The President’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year (which begins October 1st) proposes many of the same drastic cuts we have been fighting to stop. We’ll need to thank our members of Congress for this year’s funding levels and for keeping most anti-environmental riders out, continue to demonstrate the importance of the programs, and ask for adequate funding for next fiscal year, too.

We’re ready to continue working with our partners and the network of groups protecting water resources across this country—from the smallest creeks to Lake Superior—to ensure Congress continues to hear us and do what’s right for current and future generations.