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98-745: Clean Water Action Plan: Budgetary Initiatives
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Updated February 14, 2000
In October 1997, Vice President Gore directed federal agencies to develop a Clean Water Initiative to improve and strengthen water pollution control efforts. The multi-agency initiative was released in February 1998. The President's FY1999 budget requested $2.5 billion ($609 million more than in FY1998) for five departments and agencies to fund this plan (the Clean Water Action Plan), which was considered primarily through the appropriations process. Congress passed bills to fund the Plan for FY1999, providing $2.0 billion, or less than 10% of the requested increases. In the FY2000 budget request, the Administration sought $450 million in increases ($2.5 billion total) for Plan activities. FY2000 appropriations bills provided $2.2 billion of the total requested. Congressional response to the Plan has reflected a mix of support for specific activities, along with some concern that the requests were taking funds away from other programs or projects having congressional priority. For FY2001, the budget requests $2.8 billion, a 27% increase above FY2000 levels. For related analyses, see CRS Report 98-150, The Clean Water Action Plan: Background and Early Implementation. This report will be updated as developments warrant.
In October 1997, on the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Vice President Al Gore announced an initiative intended to build on the environmental successes of the Act and to address the nation's remaining water quality challenges, especially nonpoint source pollution. The Vice President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to coordinate the work of other federal agencies to develop an action plan to improve and strengthen water pollution control efforts. The purpose of the plan is to achieve three goals: enhanced protection from public health threats posed by water pollution, more effective control of polluted runoff, and promotion of water quality protection on a watershed basis. Other departments involved include the Departments of Interior and Commerce, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
President Clinton and Vice President Gore released the action plan, called the Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP), in February 1998. Components of the plan, more than 100 actions, consist mainly of existing programs, including some planned regulatory actions that agencies have had underway, now to be enhanced with increased funding or accelerated with performance-specific deadlines. (Documents related to the CWAP are available at http://www.cleanwater.gov/.) The individual elements of the plan are built on four concepts: utilizing collaborative watershed-based partnerships to clean up impaired waters; maintaining strong federal and state standards; calling on federal natural resource and conservation agencies to assist in restoring and protecting watersheds; and ensuring that citizens and officials have improved information for decision making. (For additional information, see CRS Report 98-150, The Clean Water Action Plan: Background and Early Implementation.)
Budgetary Support for the Plan in FY1999
The FY1999 budget identified the Clean Water Initiative as a high-priority for environmental programs in the budget. It requested a total of $2.47 billion -- a $609 million, or 33%, increase over 1998 base resources in relevant programs -- for multi-agency funding of a Clean Water and Watershed Restoration Initiative. It included funds for five departments and agencies, plus interagency funds. Almost one-half of the total FY1999 increases, $265 million, was designated as assistance to states and localities or individuals (farmers). Most of the activities were ongoing programs or projects. To a significant degree, including the additional resources in the FY1999 budget as a Clean Water and Watershed Restoration Initiative was more labeling or packaging of current activities than new undertakings, as the term "initiative" might typically imply.
By October 1998, Congress had passed three FY1999 appropriations bills (including an omnibus measure with funds for three of the departments) to fund the CWAP. The requests for increased funding met with mixed success. Over all, the enacted bills provided $2.0 billion, or 9.6% above FY1998 baseline amounts. The bills provided $179 million of the $609 million in requested increases. Two agencies received close to full funding for their requested action plan activities, but other agencies and departments received no or only small increases to support the plan.
The Administration sought $629 million for EPA's activities. This total was a $145 million increase above FY1998 baseline amounts, consisting of $95 million more for grants to states to manage nonpoint source pollution; $20 million more for grants for state administration of water quality programs; and $30 million for various EPA water quality activities, including development of water quality criteria for nutrients and updated regulations for animal feeding operations, and other grants for watershed restoration and wetlands protection. EPA received close to the full amount requested (in the VA-HUD, Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill, P.L. 105-276). Congress did approve the full $145 million increase, but this total was reduced by a 7% general reduction in one EPA account, with the result that it received $114 million more for state grants and $7 million more for EPA activities.
The Administration sought $903 million for USDA, $235 million above FY1998 funding. The largest increase, $100 million, was targeted to expand assistance to farmers under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to $300 million annually. Established in the 1996 farm bill, EQIP provides farmers with assistance for structural or land management practices to protect water, soil, or related resources, with emphasis on problems of runoff from livestock production. USDA funds also included $110 million more for the Forest Service to address problems associated with abandoned mines, forest land management, and road maintenance. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) was to receive $20 million for competitive grants to help communities build local capacity for watershed restoration work. The request included $2 million for the Agricultural Research Service for research on management practices to minimize loss of nutrients and pathogens from farm lands to the environment. Of the $235 million in requested increases for USDA, the appropriations bills provided $10 million more than FY1998 levels (in the Omnibus Consolidated and Supplemental Appropriations Act, P.L. 105-277). Notably, the Administration's request to increase funding for the EQIP program was not supported. P.L. 105-277 provided $26 million less for EQIP than in FY1998 ($176 million).
Several Department of Interior agencies were slated for increases totaling $59 million. Funds were included for the U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) for monitoring and research to aid states with watershed assessment and work with other federal agencies concerning federal lands. Also included was additional funding for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for watershed health projects on western public lands; a 38% increase for the Office of Surface Mining's Clean Streams Initiative for cleanup of waters contaminated by runoff from abandoned coal mines; support for Fish and Wildlife Service partnership programs to protect and restore wetland ecosystems and habitats within critical watersheds (10% increase for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and 26% increase for the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund); and funds for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to initiate water quality and watershed management planning for reservation lands in certain western river basins. The Department received $34 million of the requested increase (Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, in P.L. 105-277). This included small increases for U.S.G.S. water monitoring and assessment and for BLM work to improve water quality on federal lands.
The Administration requested $142 million for the Corps of Engineers, a $36 million increase above FY1998 funds. The bulk of the increase, $25 million, was intended to begin a new riverine ecosystem initiative, called Challenge 21, to plan and implement projects that restore watersheds while providing flood hazard mitigation for communities. It will use such non-traditional strategies as purchase of easements and land acquisition that have less impact on ecosystems than structural projects. Congress provided none of the additional funds sought for the Corps' activities under the CWAP (Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, P.L. 105-245), including rejecting funding for the proposed new Challenge 21 floodplain/riverine ecosystem restoration program. This initiative was considered separately by congressional authorizing committees, as part of proposals for water resources development legislation , but none was enacted by the 105th Congress.
Increases for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), totaling $22 million, were to support grants to implement and develop Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control programs ($12 million) and NOAA's participation in research, particularly concerning harmful algal blooms ($9 million). These increases were supported in large part (Departments of Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, in P.L. 105-277); Congress provided $17 million of the requested $22 million. However, both Appropriations Committees expressed concern about duplication between EPA and USDA programs.
Nearly 20% of the FY1999 budgetary initiative for the Clean Water Action Plan was intended to support two ongoing interagency projects, Florida Everglades restoration (funded mainly in the Department of the Interior Appropriations Bill, P.L. 105-277) and the California Bay-Delta program for ecosystem and water supply problems in California (funded in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, P.L. 105-245). The President's budget had sought $112 million in increased funding for both projects (a 24% increase for the Everglades and a 68% increase for the Bay-Delta Program), adding to $308 million for FY1998. Congress did not support increases for these projects and, in fact, provided level funding, compared with FY1998 levels. Still, the Bay-Delta program was singled out favorably in report language by both appropriations committees, despite the reduced funding.
FY2000 Budget Request
In the FY2000 budget request, the Administration sought $2.49 billion total ($450 million in increases) for Clean Water Action Plan activities. In particular, the Administration renewed its requests to fund the EQIP program at $300 million and $25 million for the Corps of Engineers to establish the Challenge 21 program, as well as several sizeable increases above FY1999 levels: $25 million more for EPA program management activities; $75 million more for the Forest Service to improve water quality on federal lands; $25 million more for the Office of Surface Mining to address abandoned mine water quality problems; $81 million more ($312 million total) for multi-agency Florida Everglades restoration projects; and $20 million more ($95 million total) for the Bay-Delta program in California.
Appropriations to fund agencies' Plan activities were passed in four FY2000 bills (including an omnibus measure with funds for two of the departments). In total the bills provide $2.17 billion$128 million more than in FY1999, but $322 million less than was requested. Appropriators again supported full funding for EPA's activities, but rejected a number of increases that the Administration sought: the EQIP program was again funded at $174 million, no funds were provided for Challenge 21 (although Congress authorized it in the Water Resources Development Act of 1999, P.L. 106-53), and funds for the Bay-Delta program totaled $60 million ($15 million less than in FY1999).
Congressional Response to the CWAP Budget
Congressional response to the budgetary initiatives to fund the Clean Water Action Plan has reflected a mix of support for the specific funding requests themselves, along with some concern that the budgetary requests were taking funds away from other programs or projects that have congressional priority. Administration documents accompanying the first budget requests in FY1999 indicated that financing for these activities would be deficit neutral and would be managed through transfers of funds available under discretionary spending caps and specific mandatory savings and revenue proposals elsewhere in the budget. Nevertheless, the proposals did imply certain spending tradeoffs which raised concern with some interest groups and Members of Congress. For example, within the FY1999 proposal for EPA, the President requested a 17% increase for grants to states to support the Plan, but also requested 11% less for state revolving fund grants (to aid clean water and drinking water treatment construction) and 55% less for specially earmarked grants assisting water projects in needy cities. States and others urged Congress to support funding both for programs in the CWAP and other important environmental and water quality activities.
There is no single forum in Congress, either authorizing or appropriating committee, where the entire CWAP has been debated. On the budgetary side, where it has primarily been considered, the budget proposals are handled by five separate subcommittees of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees. Thus, there has been no single opportunity for comprehensive review or making funding tradeoffs where the several agencies are concerned, e.g., more for USDA, less for EPA.
Congress' actions providing less than full funding have not been extensively detailed in the Appropriations Committees' reports or in floor debates. Where explanations were noted, however, the principal reasons appeared to be budget constraints, as the Administration's requests competed with other priorities, including compliance with the 1997 balanced budget agreement,(1) and Congress not viewing some of the activities as new or significant enough to merit additional funding.(2) Further, it is not entirely clear why the Appropriations Committees were fully supportive of funding increases for EPA to implement the CWAP, but less so for the other departments and agencies. One possible explanation may be that subcommittee appropriators responsible for EPA are more familiar with water quality programs and, thus, may have viewed the budget request as a logical part of the agency's mission, compared with appropriators responsible for the other bills, for whom clean water activities could be viewed as less central. Appropriators responsible for EPA have historically supported the types of activities--especially grants for states--that are the bulk of the additional funds sought for that agency.
In several Statements of Administration Policy presented during the appropriations process, the Office of Management and Budget has expressed concern about elements of the CWAP left unfunded or underfunded. Stakeholder groups also have urged Congress to provide full funding, if the Plan's objectives are to be met. However, the budgetary elements were split among several groups of appropriators, making it more difficult for supporters to make the case for funding the Plan as a whole.
EPA and USDA officials hold the view that the Plan will be implemented, even though appropriations have been less than requested. Implementation will occur, they say, because they believe that the Plan's many actions are the only way to achieve the Clean Water Act's water quality goals, especially for management of nonpoint sources of pollution. A lack of new resources will mean a 50- or 100-year implementation schedule for states, the federal government, and other participants, rather than the 25 years believed to be needed to complete the agenda as it was presented in February 1998.
FY2001 Budget Request
For FY2001, the President's budget requests $2.76 billion for activities under the Clean Water Action Plan, a 27% increase ($584 million) above the FY2000 enacted funding level of $2.2 billion. Several agencies' programs would receive increases under this budget. The Administration seeks $159 million in additional funding for EPA, consisting of $50 million for state grants to manage nonpoint (runoff) pollution problems, $45 million for state grants for general administration of water quality programs, $50 million for a new state grant program to assist with cleanup of Great Lakes contamination problems, and $14 million for EPA activities.
The Administration seeks $151 million in additional funding for USDA's EQIP program (for a total of $325 million), again renewing a request to expand this conservation assistance program. Other proposed increases for USDA include $54 million more for technical assistance concerning animal waste management (appropriators provided $19 million for this activity for FY2000) and $85 million more for Forest Service activities to improve water quality on federal lands (appropriators provided $542 million for this activity for FY2000, $36 million less than had been requested).
Among the other increases included in the President's budget are: $15 million more for wetlands restoration in the budget of the Fish and Wildlife Service (for a total of $58 million); $7 million more for NOAA's coastal pollution and research programs (for a total of $22 million, as requested for each of the last 2 years); $8 million more for the Corps of Engineers' wetlands regulatory program (for a total of $125 million) and $20 million for the Corps' newly-authorized Challenge 21 program; and $50 million more for the multi-agency Florida Everglades restoration program (for a total of $334 million).
1. (back)For example, the House Appropriations Committee noted, concerning a Forest Service request to fund rangeland management activities, "The Committee does not have the resources to fund any of the $16,000,000 increase requested as part of the President's clean water initiative." U.S. House. Committee on Appropriations. Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 1999, Report to accompany H.R. 4193. (H.Rept. 105-609) p. 77.
2. (back)Likewise, the House Committee said, concerning a request for funds for the U.S. Geological Survey, "The Committee has not provided any funds for the Administration's so called clean water initiative, which from the Committee's perspective is mostly a repackaging of existing programs that have been funded and supported by the Congress." Ibid., p. 49.
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