Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Making Sense of the Obama 2013 Budget Plan's Impact on Water Resource Issues

On February 13 the Obama Administration's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released the President's fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget plan, modifying slightly in the process several of the Administration's consistent conservation, natural resource and environmental initiatives.  A variety of relevant Federal agencies, departments or programs are highlighted below, along with an overview of some of the budget plan's significant provisions as they relate to the Mississippi River Basin.  Links are provided to each institution's budget summary and to the respective OMB budget appendix, where much more detail can be found.

But, before you go on, below, reading the tantalizing details, we should first pause to address perhaps a more vexing topic: just what does this all mean?

It's best remembered that the Administration's budget proposal is just that - a proposal.  In recent years nothing closely resembling the President's budget requests have made their way through Congress and been reflected in appropriation measures that were finally passed.  And during this election year, in particular, the budget plan has much more to do with a 2012 re-election bid than with any actual spending ability that Federal agencies will see anytime soon.  In the meantime, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) is already preparing his own FY 2013 budget plan, which will form the basis for a House Budget Resolution.  Ryan plans to release his budget plan in the near future.  That plan will effectively be a Republican response to the President’s proposed budget (hint: Republican leaders have already declared the President's proposal "dead on arrival").  If you want to read further about what the Washington spending debate may look like in 2012, check our recent budget and appropriation's overview here.  

On top of these election-year complications, there is the matter of across-the-board $1.2 trillion in Federal spending cuts that are automatically scheduled to begin on January 1, 2013 under provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011, passed by Congress and signed into law last August.  Known as "sequestration," these mandatory cuts kick in if Congress fails to enact a deficit-reduction bill containing at least $1.2 trillion in cuts (which Congress has failed to do).   The role that looming sequestration will have on the budget and spending debate in 2012 is largely unknown, but should be substantial to say the least.

Okay, now on to the budget analysis.

Environmental Protection Agency (Links to agency "Budget in Brief" (PDF file) and OMB's EPA budget appendix)
The budget proposes trimming EPA's FY 2013 budget by $105 million, marking the third year running that the Administration has proposed cutting the agency's funding. The FY 2013 budget would give EPA $8.3 billion, down 1.2 percent from the $8.4 billion that Congress provided the agency in the FY 2012 omnibus spending bill. The most significant cuts would be dealt to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which would be cut to $2 billion, down from $2.38 billion appropriated in FY 2012 (the Clean Water State Revolving Fund would be cut $0.291 billion, receiving $1.175 billion; the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund would be cut $68 million from FY 2012 levels to $850 million). The State Revolving Funds (or "SRFs" as they are also known) provide grants to States to capitalize their own State-run revolving funds, which provide loans to support improvements in municipal wastewater and drinking water systems.  

The funding news for EPA was not all negative, however.  The budget plan includes $27.7 million for EPA's wetland protection program, which would be approximately $6.5 million more than FY 2012 levels.  The budget also proposes to give $1.2 billion in grants to states and Tribes for their delegated environmental programs, an increase from the approximately $1.1 billion enacted by Congress for FY 2012.  EPA has also proposed setting aside funds in FY 2013 for invasive Asian Carp control.  There is a line item in their "Justification of Appropriation Estimates for the Committee on Appropriations" entitled “Multiple Agencies: Asian Carp” which proposes a $19.5 million FY 2013 allocation under EPA's Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).   Later Asian carp references in the document state, “GLRI has been central to the Administration’s coordinated efforts keeping self-sustaining Asian carp populations out of the Great Lakes,” and "Coordinated activities to implement the Initiative include . . . protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species, including Asian carp."

U.S. Department of Agriculture (Links to USDA Budget Summary and Annual Performance Plan (PDF) and OMB's USDA budget appendix)
The President's budget proposal calls for significant mandatory and discretionary spending reductions across numerous USDA programs, and proposes to eliminate some programs entirely. At the agency-wide level, the budget would provide $23.9 billion in FY 2013 discretionary funding to support USDA programs, a decrease of $3.2 billion from the FY 2010 enacted level. The USDA budget proposal has been analyzed in detail in other places (including this blog and by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in this fine, comprehensive summary).  Suffice it to say for the purposes of this overview, the budget plan proposes significant changes in USDA's Farm Bill programs, including the eventual elimination of the Federal direct-payment subsidy program, reduction in Federal subsidies for crop and income insurance, and significant cuts to natural resource conservation programs. 

Overall, the Administration proposes spending $827 million in discretionary funding toward conservation, a decrease from $898 million actually appropriated in FY 2011 and from an estimated $851 million that will be spent in FY 2012. The budget plan also calls for cuts to Farm Bill mandatory spending for conservation with over $1 billion in permanent rescissions. The budget proposes “to reduce conservation funding by $1.8 billion over 10 years by better targeting conservation funding to the most cost-effective and environmentally-beneficial programs and practices.”

Within the USDA, the Administration requests a slight increase in U.S. Forest Service funding.  Under the plan, USFS would receive $4.861 billion in FY 2013, a $15.5 million increase compared to FY 2012 funding levels. The request would fund the collaborative forest landscape restoration program at $40 million, which is the maximum authorized funding level and the same as FY 2012 funding levels. 

Army Corps of Engineers  (Links to Civil Works Budget Press Book (PDF) and OMB's Civil Works budget appendix)
The budget proposal requests $4.7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works budget, down $271 million from what the agency actually received in FY 2012.  That federal funding would consist of $3.744 billion from the general fund, $848 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, $95 million from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and $44 million from Special Recreation User Fees.  Under the 2013 plan, funding will be allocated for Operation and Maintenance ($2.398 billion), Construction ($1.471 billion), and Mississippi River and Tributaries (essentially Lower Mississippi River navigation activities; $234 million).  Some of the more notable Mississippi River Basin proposed spending projects in the budget plan include (alphabetically):
  • Coralville Lake Operations and Maintenance, Iowa City, Iowa ($4,235,000)
  • Farm Creek Reservoir Operations & Maintenance, East Peoria, Illinois ($457,000)
  • Humboldt, Iowa, Ecosystem Restoration ($230,000)
  • Illinois River Basin Restoration Planning (three-state area) ($400,000)
  • Illinois Waterway Operations & Maintenance ($32.727 million)
  • Inspection of Completed Works; Rock Island District ($728,000)
  • Lake Red Rock Operations and Maintenance, Knoxville, Iowa  ($4.579 million)
  • Lock and Dam 27, Mississippi River, Illinois (funded to completion)
  • Lockport Lock and Dam, Upper Pool, Illinois ($3,600,000)
  • Louisiana Coastal Area, Ecosystem Restoration, Louisiana ($16.8 million)
  • Mississippi River Operations & Maintenance (Rock Island District) ($56.758 million)
  • Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery (seven states) ($90 million)
  • Olmsted Locks and Dam, Illinois and Kentucky ($144 million)
  • Saylorville Lake Operations and Maintenance, Des Moines, Iowa ($5.489 million)
  • Upper Mississippi River Restoration (Environmental Management Program) ($17.88 million)
Department of Interior - U.S. Geological Survey and Fish and Wildlife Service (Links to Department of the Interior "Budget in Brief," USGS Budget Justification (PDF) and OMB's Department of Interior budget appendix
The Department of Interior’s overall FY 2013 budget request is $11.5 billion, representing an increase of $97.9 million over the FY 2012 enacted spending level. At $1.1 billion, the USGS FY 2013 budget request likewise is slightly ($34.5 million) higher than the FY 2012 level.  Notably, the budget would provide an increase of $51.0 million to fund USGS research in areas such as Asian Carp research (increased $3 million), disaster response, hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), coastal and ocean stewardship and ecosystem restoration.  

The USGS FY 2013 budget proposal includes $209.8 million for its Water Resources programs, a cut of $4.8 million from FY 2012 enacted levels, including a proposed $731 million cut to the National Water Quality Assessment Program.  However, within that Water Resources budget category, USGS science programs that support ecosystem management for what it terms "priority ecosystems" would be increased overall by $16.2 million.  Those ecosystems include the Upper Mississippi River (increased $9.2 million), Chesapeake Bay, California Bay-Delta, Columbia River, Everglades, PugetSound, Great Lakes, and Klamath Basin.  The USGS Invasive Species, Asian Carp Control Framework-Great Lakes and Upper Mississippi budget includes a program increase of $3.0 million for research on new methods to eradicate, control, and manage Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi River Basin and prevent their entry into the Great Lakes.

Also within the Department of Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would see an increase of $72.0 million in the budget proposal above the FY 2012 enacted level to $1.5 billion. The FWS Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Conservation budget line includes a program increase of $2.903 million associated with Asian Carp monitoring.   Of that, $900,000 will be for “traditional gear sampling as part of a comprehensive surveillance and monitoring program for Asian carp species in the Great Lakes.” And of that $2.9 million, an additional program increase of $2.0 million in 2013 will “support the development of a comprehensive early detection and surveillance program for Asian carp through the establishment of eDNA labs at FWS’ Regional Fish Technology Centers. This sampling will be conducted in high-risk ecosystems and habitats such as the California Bay-Delta, Mississippi River Basin, and Columbia River Basin.”

National Infrastructure Bank
Although not an existing program or housed within a specific Federal institution, the Administration's proposed "National Infrastructure Bank" is significantly spotlighted in the Obama budget plan and has the potential to substantially impact water infrastructure-related funding nationwide (funding, for example, relating to currently SRF-supported water projects highlighted above).  The OMB notes in its description of the initiative that the Bank would be "led by infrastructure and financial experts" and "would offer broad eligibility and unbiased selection for transportation, water and energy infrastructure projects."  The bank would offer loans with the same interest rate as similar U.S. Treasury securities and would have a life span of up to 35 years.

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