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State Clean Air Agencies Lose $112 Million in EPA Budget-Cutting

Already-underfunded clean air bureaus are set to lose millions, according to figures from the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Can they cope?

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

Apr 27, 2011

WASHINGTON—Those conducting triage on the gimpy EPA budget that limped out of the U.S. Capitol in mid-April describe the results this way: House Republicans might not have landed the gigantic bite they initially sought, but they still managed to launch their share of substantial licks.

In sum, the fiscal 2011 spending measure — passed at the eleventh hour to fund the government through September and avoid an ugly shutdown — whacks $1.6 billion from the .

And while it doesn't contain the draconian riders that would have prevented the agency from curbing any heat-trapping gases at all, it does slice away millions of dollars in grants that are the lifeblood for clean air bureaus at the state level.

How will local agencies cope with this pared-down reality?

"This is the $100 million question," Bill Becker, executive director of the Washington-based , told SolveClimate News in an interview.

"The requirements don't go away, nor are we suggesting they do go away. The idea of increasing permit fees in this economic climate is an extraordinarily unpopular action for most states. What we have to continue to do is accomplish more with less."

How the Numbers Break Down

"Overall, what we have been saying is that the 2011 continuing resolution cut over $100 million in appropriated or anticipated funds that would help states and localities implement greenhouse gas and other Clean Air Act-related activities," Becker said about his organization's calculations.

In total, $112.5 million was lopped. That includes $82.5 million that President Obama initially requested in his 2011 budget and a separate $30 million that had already been appropriated by Congress in 2010, according to numbers compiled by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

Obama's idea was to divide up the $82.5 million among the states this way: $25 million to set up a permitting infrastructure for monitoring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; $40 million for carrying out core programs such as "state implementation plans," inventories, enforcement, inspections that aren't linked directly to greenhouse gas permitting; and $17.5 million to augment monitoring networks.

Two-thirds of the $30 million from 2010 was geared to help severely polluted regions meet fine particulate and ozone requirements. The remaining $10 million was designated for greenhouse gas emissions projects among communities.

"State and local agencies are woefully underfunded and Obama recognized that," Becker said, adding that ideally, EPA should be funding 60 percent — not just 25 percent — of what states spend controlling air pollution.

"Given the terrible economic times we're facing, state and local bodies are loathe to pick up the slack."

$25 Million for Carbon Emissions Vanishes

The $25 million mentioned above was supposed to help states and local agencies comply with EPA's greenhouse gas tailoring rule, which kicked in Jan. 2.

The first phase is geared for new or modified power plants, cement producers or other facilities with large carbon footprints. It requires states to determine if these stationary emitters can qualify for federal permits.

"Fortunately, in the first four months of the tailoring rule, states haven't been flooded with a large number of permits," Becker said. "On average, it's maybe one or two per agency. But even with that, complying with [Best Available Control Technology] takes a significant amount of time."

Tailoring act trackers attribute the low number of permits thus far to at least three factors. One, state economies are still in the dumps. Two, some states experienced a bit of an end-of-the-year permitting rush to beat the Jan. 2 deadline. And three, some companies might be hanging on to their permit applications while waiting to see if and how Congress intervenes.

Agencies are in a pinch because most states are reluctant to boost permit fees during these cash-strapped times and most state legislatures are slashing rather than enhancing environmental budgets.

"They're trying to be smarter and better in their implementation activities," Becker said. "But that only goes so far."

th EPA shouldimmediately 

th EPA shouldimmediately  employ a lawyer as spokeman. None protects their interest publicly.

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