Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fiscal Year 2015 Spending Package and How It Relates to the Mississippi River Basin

Photo credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
By a vote of 56 - 40 on December 13, the Senate passed a 1,603-page spending package to fund most of the government through next September and the Department of Homeland Security through February, and sent the measure on to the President, who signed the bill without fanfare (the House previously passed the measure on December 11).  Dubbed the “cromnibus,” the spending package encompasses 11 appropriations bills that cover most of the government for the rest of fiscal 2015 and one continuing resolution (CR) that funds Homeland Security. The $1.012 trillion bill abides by the caps agreed to under last December’s budget agreement, which relieves lawmakers of the requirement to implement mandatory sequestration for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

Below are various funding and policy provisions of the spending package that are particularly relevant to natural resources within the Mississippi River Basin.

Energy and Water Title
The Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $5.5 billion, an increase of $15 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted levels.  Some of the spending line items in that title include funding for the following Mississippi River Basin projects (note: this is not an inclusive list, to see the full project breakdown, go to this link):

Mississippi River Basin Investigations (Feasibility Studies)
  • Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration- Mississippi River Hydrology, LA $50,000 (the administration had requested $2,500,000)
  • Illinois River Basin Restoration, IL $400,000
  • Interbasin Control of Great Lakes-Mississippi River Aquatic Nuisance Species, IL, IN, OH, WI $500,000
  • Minnesota River Watershed Study, MN, SD (Minnesota River Authority) $600,000
  • Missouri River Degradation, MO $593,000
Mississippi River and Tributaries Construction, Operation and Maintenance, and other items “Remaining Items”) $302,000,000 ($57,000,000 more than the administration’s request), including:

  • Upper Mississippi River Restoration, IL, IA, MN, MO, WI $33,170,000
  • Olmsted Locks And Dam, Ohio River, IL, KY $160,000,000
  • Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery, IA, KS, MO, MT, NE, ND, SD $48,771,000
  • Mississippi River Levees (construction) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN 18,947,000
  • Channel improvement (construction) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN $40,861,000
Operation and Maintenance
  • Channel Improvement (operation and maintenance) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN $65,739,000
  • Mississippi River Levees (operation and maintenance) AR, IL, KY, LA, MS, MO, TN $8,890,000
Additional Funding For Ongoing Work

The legislation directs that these funds be used by the Army Corps "for flood control, navigation, water supply, ground water protection, waterfowl management, bank stabilization, erosion and sedimentation control, and environmental restoration work. The intent of these funds is for ongoing work primarily along the Mississippi River tributaries that either was not included in the Administration's request or was inadequately budgeted."
  • Dredging $6,400,000
  • Flood Control $29,600,000
  • Other Authorized Project Purposes $21,000,000
Other spending line items that relate to but fund activities beyond the Mississippi River Basin include:
  • $1.1 billion from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, for harbor maintenance, construction, and operations activities (a $100 million increase over 2014 enacted levels); 
  • $281 million (including the full amount of anticipated revenues into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund) for construction and rehabilitation of the nation’s inland waterways infrastructure; and
  • $29 million for the Asian carp dispersal barrier project on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  Funding is provided for the continued construction, operation, and maintenance of the electric barrier system. No funding is provided for construction of hydrologic separation measures. 
Interior and Environment Title
This title funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $8.1 billion, which would be $60 million less than the EPA received in fiscal year 2014, although $250 million more than the Obama Administration requested in its 2015 budget request. Overall, EPA funding has been reduced by $2.2 billion (21 percent) since 2010.  In addition, the bill continues a trend of reducing the number of EPA staff, bringing staffing to the lowest number since 1989, according to the House Appropriations Committee press release.   EPA had just over 14,000 employees in 1989.

The Department of the Interior is funded at $1.1 billion; $27 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level. 

This title of the bill provides for:
  • $2.35 billion in grants to states to help them fund local drinking water and sewer construction projects through the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds; and
  • $1.4 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service; $12 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level.
Agriculture Title
This title provides $20.6 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Agriculture (USDA), $305 million below the fiscal year 2014 enacted level, including:
  • $5.1 billion for the Forest Service
  • $2.7 billion for agriculture research programs with Agricultural Research Service seeing virtually the same level of funding as in 2014;
  • $1.5 billion for the Farm Service Agency (FSA), which oversees commodity programs, biomass energy efforts, the Conservation Reserve Program and emergency drought measures. That funding level is $22 million above the fiscal year 2014 enacted level;
  • $1.35 billion for Rural Energy for America Program loan guarantees
  • $859 million in discretionary funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a $33 million increase over the 2014 enacted level, including $12 million for dam rehabilitation;
  • cuts of about $200 million to some of USDA's mandatory programs under the 2014 farm bill (primarily from the NRCS's Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program, but also from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (FSA), Watershed Rehabilitation Program (NRCS), and Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (Rural Development)).
Several environmental and conservation policy riders were successfully attached to the spending package, including provisions that would:
  • Require the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw a rule that outlines numerous exemptions to the Clean Water Act for farmers. That rule (the "U.S. Environmental Protection  Agency and the U.S. Department of the Army Interpretive Rule Regarding the Applicability of the Clean Water Act Section 404(f)(1)(A)" or "interpretive rule") was signed on March 25, 2014;
  • Prohibit funding for the EPA to regulate the lead content in ammunition or fishing tackle under the Toxic Substances Control Act;
  • Prohibit the use of funds for an Army Corps of Engineers' study of the Missouri River and its tributaries known as the Missouri River Ecosystem Recovery Plan, authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 2007;
  • Prohibit the use of funds for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue further rules to place the greater sage-grouse (a rare bird found in several Western states) on the Endangered Species List; 
  • Prohibit the use of funds for the Army Corps of Engineers to change the definition of the terms "fill material" or "discharge of fill material" for the purposes of the Clean Water Act; and
  • Prohibit the use of funds by the Army Corps of Engineers "to develop or implement rules or guidance to support implementation of the final Principles and Requirements for Federal Investments in Water Resources released in March 2013."

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