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How Far Does the President Budge On Protecting Our Environment?

November 13, 2016
Since Nixon signed Executive Order Reorganization Plan No. 3 in 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been committed to preserving national environmental and human health. It employs scientists, engineers, policy makers, political appointees, and others who work towards upholding federal laws through recommendations and regulations on a national and regional level. As an environmental science and journalism major, it’s easy to consider the federal government’s role in managing the planet’s resources and forget about the man-made resource behind it all–money.

By Madison Bell-Rosof

Before considering any Washington political, policy, or scientific decisions that go into allocating the budget at EPA, it’s important to understand the process of appropriating dollars. Designing the budget is a twelve month a year dance between the President, EPA’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer of EPA, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Congress. First, EPA compiles a four-year Strategic Plan (SP) with measurable goals to justify the basis for their budget. Under the 2010 GPRA Modernization Act, every federal agency, including EPA, is required to draft an SP for “a period of not less than 4 years forward from fiscal year in which it is published,” and publish it on a central website. Since the SP should reflect the priorities of the new administration, it is expected to be completed within one year of the inauguration. In a too-simple explanation of the process, the SP is sent to be reviewed by OMB and Congress, and by the following October, Congress approves a budget.

EPA’s current SP terminates in 2018, and so October 2016, the first month of Fiscal Year 2017, will see the beginning of the next strategic planning cycle. 2014’s SP outlined five broad goals: Addressing Climate Change and Air Quality, Protecting America’s Waters, Cleaning up Communities and Advancing Sustainable Development, Ensuring the Safety of Chemicals and Preventing Pollution, and Protecting Human Health and the Environment by Enforcing Laws and Assuring Compliance. A quick glance at 2011’s Plan suggests that the broad idea of each goal hasn’t changed a whole lot in eight years. The explanation of this is that each goal is linked to multiple objectives, which are linked to a monetary account. EPA’s Office of Planning and Analysis (OPAA) likes to think of these accounts as “bins” of money. You can’t change the bins (i.e. restructure the accounts), but you can change how they’re described. Even if you’re charging a pencil to a different account, it has to go through the process, thanks to the checks and balances involved in allocating government money. The Office of Water, for example, cannot simply dip into a “bin” if it wants to monitor nutrient disposal in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer has to give the program offices access to EPA’s Treasury Account, and OMB must approve the transaction. 

The challenge with the Strategic Plan being a baseline for appropriated dollars is that the two, the Agency goals and the budget, should really go hand-in-hand. However, the SP is done before EPA knows the exact budget they will have to work with. When looking four years down the line, the Agency wants to be realistic, but not too realistic. If EPA accomplished 100% of their strategic measures, what is that saying about its goals?

Like many federal agencies, during the last administration, there were substantial budget cuts in EPA funding.  Following the Budget Control Act of 2011, which raised the national debt ceiling in exchange for capping annual appropriations to federal agencies, EPA had to adjust its expectations. However, even with lack of monetary support, EPA is still legally obligated to uphold federal laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Recovery, Conservation and Liability Act). The economic stressors associated with these laws cannot be reduced as long as human activities put environmental and public health at risk. For example, the funds for CERCLA, which created the “Superfund” in order to pay for the clean-up of chemical and toxic waste sites, have not been taken out of people’s taxes since 2001. When no company can be traced as liable, the cleanup comes out of appropriated dollars. 

Since programs that serve EPA’s mission are not legally allowed to go unfunded, no matter how Republican the House may be, the cuts resulting from the President Budget will affect human resources and working conditions at EPA before they affect environmental programs. During the 2013 government shutdown, every office at EPA was cut 5% by law. The Agency’s damage control involved David Bloom, the Deputy Chief Financial Officer, and Administrator of EPA Gina McCarthy, sitting down together to look at what vacant spots were critical and what office space could be consolidated. Employees of eligible retirement age were offered $25,000 to make a decision to leave a little easier, and an office in Arlington was shut down so that everyone could be transferred into existing rooms at Headquarters.

Budget caps aside, EPA is not slowing down its regulatory programs. In late June, EPA helped pass an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)[1] – the first change to an environmental law in over 20 years. Just two days after the TSCA bill passed, OCFO was scrambling; Mr. Bloom received calls that the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention needed the money “by yesterday” to gear up for chemical testing programs. Adjusting budget allocations within the Agency allows EPA to continue to finance its longstanding obligations as well as exciting new improvements in legislation. “A lot of people think we continuously start from a ground zero budget, but we don’t start from the beginning every year,” says Bloom. Let’s hope that after next year’s administration transition, EPA will continue to build on what they have.

  [1] Davenport, Coral and Emmarie Huetteman. “Lawmakers Reach Deal to Expand Regulation of Toxic Chemicals.” The New York Times. 19 May 2016. nytimes.com Web. 24 Jul 2016. 

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  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
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  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>