Thursday, April 11, 2013

Water Resource Priorities as Reflected in the Obama 2014 Budget Proposal

If it is nothing else, the annual release of the President's budget proposal is a political statement. And while no Administration's budget stands any realistic chance of being reflected en masse in any subsequent Congressional appropriation's bill, the annual rite does play one role in that it reflects the priorities of the Administration at the time of the budget's release. With that in mind, here an overview of what the Obama team's water resource priorities are (or not) for the immediate future, based on its 2014 budget proposal. The review is broken out by agency, and links are provided to each agency's detailed budget overview document.

Environmental Protection Agency (link to the EPA "Budget in Brief" here)
The proposal provides $8.2 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a decrease of $296 million, or 3.5 percent, below the 2012 enacted funding level.
  • The largest cuts come from reductions to the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) by a combined $472 million (the budget provides a combined $1.9 billion for the annual Federal contribution to both SRFs). The funding reduction, the Administration notes, would allow a program focus on communities most in need of assistance, and, they contend, would still allow the SRFs to finance approximately $6 billion in wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects annually. 
  • Funding for water programs would fall under the budget, coming in at $3.1 billion in fiscal year 2014 compared to $3.6 billion in fiscal year 2012.
  • The budget proposes to increase coordinating efforts between the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and EPA programs, such as EPA’s Nonpoint Source Grants and Water Pollution Control Grants and USDA’s Farm Bill conservation programs. Under this initiative EPA would enhance its efforts to address nutrient pollution through working collaboratively with U.S. Department of Agriculture in high priority, focused watersheds, such as the Mississippi River Basin, and provide funding to states to undertake nutrient pollution reductions (including $15 million in Clean Water Act Section 106 grants).
U.S. Department of Agriculture (link to the USDA "Budget Summary" here)
The Administration looks to reduce U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expenditures by $37.8 billion over ten years by eliminating some subsidies paid directly to producers, reducing government crop insurance subsidies, and "streamlining" agricultural land conservation programs.  The budget would increase funding for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service by around $50 million over the level enacted in the fiscal year 2013 continuing resolution.
  • As proposed in his previous four budget plans, the President's fiscal year 2014 budget proposes to eliminate direct payments to producers, saving an estimated $3 billion annually. Farm Bill “direct payment” provisions supply producers fixed annual income assistance for having historically planted crops that were supported by government programs, regardless of whether the farmer is currently
    producing those or any other crops. 
  • USDA proposes to strategically target funding to address high priority conservation goals for improving water quality and water availability, land conservation, wildlife habitat, and wetland protection. Funding would provide for conservation programs that focus on priority landscapes "most in need of protection, emphasize partnering with local constituents to efficiently implement programs and initiatives, and help create jobs and strengthen the rural economy."
  • The Administration contends that high commodity prices have lowered producer demand for enrollment of farm land into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), as more farmers look to increase planted acres, and it proposes to cap the maximum allowable acreage enrollment in the CRP at 25 million acres, saving an estimated $2.2 billion over 10 years.  The purpose of the CRP is to assist farm owners and operators in conserving and improving soil, water, air and wildlife resources by converting highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive acreage normally devoted to the production of agricultural commodities to a long-term resource-conserving cover. Also eligible for the CRP are some of the country's water quality- or wildlife habitat-impaired areas that do not meet erosion criteria, such as the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Long Island Sound watersheds. 
  • The Administration proposes to permanently authorize annual mandatory funding, without further appropriation or fiscal year limitation for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) programs beginning in fiscal year 2014.   The LWCF is a Federal program established in 1964 to provide funds and matching grants for federal land management agencies, state agencies and local communities to acquire land and water, and easements on land and water, primarily for recreation and the protection of natural resources. Initially authorized for 25 years, the LWCF was extended for another 25 years. However, its current authority ends in January 2015. Discretionary funding for the LWCF is appropriated by Congress annually. 
  • Under this budget proposal, USDA would enroll nearly 12 million acres in the Conservation Stewardship Program, the largest rural conservation program, but would permanently reduce the program enrollment by almost 800,000 acres.
  • The Administration foresees USDA working cooperatively with other federal agencies such as the EPA, along with conservation districts, tribal organizations and others, to establish a monitoring network for pollution washing into waterways from agricultural lands.
Army Corps of Engineers-Civil Works (link to the Army Corps' Civil Works Budget Summary here)
The budget would provide $4.7 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers civil works program, a 5.5 percent decrease from the 2012 enacted level.
  • The budget continues to provide funding for the operation and maintenance of so-called "high performing projects," such as navigation on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and the Illinois Waterway. 
  • The President proposes reforms to the way that the Federal Government finances capital investments in support of navigation on the inland waterways including a new user fee; including establishing an annual per vessel fee to increase the amount paid by commercial navigation users sufficiently to meet their share of the costs of activities financed from this fund, and establishing an Infrastructure Bank that would help finance port deepening, levees and other major water resources development activities. 
  • The budget proposal includes funding to restore significant aquatic ecosystems "based on sound science and adaptive management."  Funds are provided for work on such "priority aquatic ecosystems" as the California Bay-Delta, Chesapeake Bay, Everglades, Great Lakes, and Gulf Coast. Funds are also provided for other aquatic ecosystem efforts, such as restoring Puget Sound and improving environmental outcomes in the Upper Mississippi River and the Missouri River.
Interior Department (link to the DOI "2014 Budget in Brief" here)
The $11.7 billion request for the Department of Interior is over 4 percent higher than the fiscal year 2012 enacted level and marks a substantial increase over the level the agency was provided following sequester cuts, which amounted to a funding reduction of about 9 percent. 
  • The budget proposes $963 million for research and development across bureaus, including $71 million for climate change science (a $13 million increase over 2012). It also includes $18 million to fund research with EPA and the Energy Department into hydraulic fracturing to better understand and minimize potential impacts.
  • As noted above, the Interior budget requires mandatory, full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund; requesting $600 million for the program in fiscal year 2014, a level over $200 million higher than current funding levels
  • The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) budget request is $1.2 billion, which is $98.8 million above the 2012 enacted level (USGS details are provided in the DOI "2014 Budget in Brief" here and in this specific USGS budget summary).
  • USGS funding would include $180.8 million for the agency's "ecosystems" activities (funding USGS research and monitoring); $22.5 million above the 2012 enacted level. That amount includes a program increase of $3 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. 
  • The USGS 2014 budget also includes $222.9 million for "Water Resources," $13.3 million above the 2012 enacted level. This budget category includes funding for programs that "collect, manage, and disseminate hydrologic data, model and analyze hydrologic systems, and conduct research and development leading to new understandings of and methods for gathering data."
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA details are included in this Department of Commerce "Budget in Brief")
The $5.4 billion National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) request represents an 8 percent increase over fiscal year 2012 funding levels. 
  • The budget proposal suggests $472.4 million for NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research to improve the agency's ability to provide forecasts for communities preparing for climate change impacts.

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