EPA Passing Budget Cuts on to States

By: - June 27, 2011 12:00 am

CUTTING BACK: The pinch of budget cuts at the federal Environmental Protection Agency is being felt most heavily by state agencies charged with enforcing environmental rules, the Washington Post

reports . As part of this spring’s deal to fund the federal government through October, Congress reduced the EPA’s budget by 16 percent. The EPA doesn’t keep most of its money in Washington, though-it sends it to states. So states are scaling back environmental programs as a result. Republicans in Congress say they’ll attempt to design cuts for next fiscal year that stick at the EPA’s headquarters, rather than being passed on to the state level.

STRICTEST STANDARDS: The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission has adopted what the (Portland) Oregonian

describes as the strictest water pollution standards in the country, in a move that was supported by members of Indian tribes that eat a lot of local fish. The new standards will be designed to make it safe to eat ten times as much fish as the old standards, changing rules for everything from mercury to pesticides. Sewage treatment plants are worried that the move will increase their costs. 

UNCOMMON RULING: The U.S. Supreme Court last week unanimously rejected an effort by six states to force limits on greenhouse gas emissions through federal common law, saying that the federal Clean Air Act supersedes common law, the New York Times

reports . The plaintiffs-California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont-argued that utilities were creating a public nuisance through greenhouse gas emissions and that courts should force them to cut back. The justices said that, at least for now, that was the job of the EPA, not the judiciary. However, the justices didn’t rule out the possibility of a successful common law argument in the future if, for example, Congress were to revoke the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  

COAL COOPERATION: Kansas regulators worked unusually closely with power plant officials in approving a controversial new coal-fired power plant, the Kansas City Star

reports . E-mails obtained by the Star showed, for example, that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment sent questions from the public to power plant officials, then used their answers to respond without revealing they were taking the company’s line. The plant in western Kansas was blocked in 2007 because of concerns about its greenhouse gas emissions, the first time a coal plant had been blocked in the United States over global warming issues. It was allowed to go forward under a compromise in 2009. The Sierra Club is challenging the permit to build the plant.

BON VOYAGE: A company that’s trying to persuade Virginia lawmakers to overturn a ban on uranium mining is paying for state legislators to travel to France to see a closed mine, the Washington Post

reports . Virginia Uranium Inc. invited most members of the legislature on the trip, which also includes free time in Paris. More than a dozen accepted. Virginia Uranium says that perhaps $10 billion worth of uranium is buried in Pittsylvania County in southern Virginia, but environmental groups are opposed to extracting the radioactive material. The trips are legal under state law so long as they are reported.

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Josh Goodman

Josh Goodman helps lead research on fiscal management and place-based economic development programs as part of Pew’s state fiscal health project. Goodman has served as a primary author for Pew studies that examine how states should evaluate tax incentives and maintain budget discipline when implementing those incentives.