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Biden Budget Seeks Boost for EPA Core Programs and Research (1)

May 28, 2021, 5:30 PM; Updated: May 28, 2021, 7:02 PM

President Joe Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget lays out a 24.1% boost to the EPA’s core rule-writing and enforcement programs and a 7.5% increase in staffing to get the work done, according to a detailed blueprint released on Friday.

The plan envisions a $3.4 billion request to implement the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other statutes, up from $2.8 billion in the current budget. That funding would cover a huge range of activities, such as creating ways to attain ambient air quality standards and overseeing states’ management of hazardous waste.

Agency-wide, Biden’s budget would raise EPA staffing to 15,206 full-time employees, up from 14,144.

The budget “makes sure all EPA offices have the operational budgets and workforces they need to deliver for the American people,” Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Biden’s overall funding ask for the EPA is a 21.6% increase over what it currently receives. The request represents what would be the biggest budget the EPA has ever received.

Congressional appropriators routinely ignore presidential budget requests, meaning Biden’s plan is mostly a statement of values and starting point for negotiations. Broadly, the $11.2 billion funding request is consistent with the White House’s ambitious climate and environmental justice agendas.

New Research Dollars

Other parts of the budget call for a 13.8% boost in EPA research. That money would be used for new scientific work on air emissions, water contaminants, chemical safety, sustainable communities, and other issues that could be used to underpin new regulations.

Already the EPA, under Regan, has pledged to start working on new regulations that will require scientific justification. The agency’s proposed research budget would rise from $729.3 million to $830 million under the Biden plan.

The budget restores the Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program and bumps up its base funding to $60 million for expanded research on air monitoring, levels for national ambient air quality standards, assistance for local clean air plans, and climate change.

As part of its newly-invigorated research agenda, the budget proposal also envisions EPA working with a new research agency known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate, which would be modeled on other ARPA programs that already exist for defense and energy. Biden called for the new ARPA-C office in February.

The budget will hand $4 billion to agencies including the Interior Department and NASA for broad research projects aimed at climate change adaptation and resilience. For non-defence agencies, the White House will allow $10 billion in overall clean energy research targeting infrastructure, transportation and industry.

According to a breakdown released by the EPA, $75 million would fund research that informs the regulatory process around per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) enforcement and hazardous substance designation. Chemical safety and toxics standards work under the Toxic Substances Control Act would get an additional $15 million next fiscal year.

Environmental Justice Funding

Biden’s request also calls for more than $1.4 billion to support marginalized communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution, including $936 million for a new EPA initiative to accelerate environmental and economic justice to clean up pollution and secure environmental justice for communities that have been left behind.

The budget touts the president’s request as the largest investment in environmental justice in history. But it also asks for a mammoth $27 billion over 10 years for a new Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator that Biden proposed in his infrastructure plan to mobilize private investment into distributed energy resources; retrofit residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and fund clean transportation.

Those investments have a particular focus on disadvantaged communities that have not yet benefited from clean energy investments. The money would be requested over multiple years through 2031, according to the budget request.

Within EPA’s $936 million Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative—part of the $1.4 billion spending allotment for environmental justice work across agencies—$100 million will go towards air quality monitoring and notifications to “provide real-time data in the places with the highest levels of exposure to pollution.”

Water Spending

The EPA envisions making good on Biden’s pledge to help communities replace lead drinking water pipes, in part by bolstering Water Infrastructure and Innovation Act loans to local water systems.

That includes a proposed increase of more than two and a half times in the budget for the EPA’s grant program for helping local and tribal governments replace lead pipes under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Funds for the grant program would total $81.5 million in fiscal 2022.

The agency is further proposing a 10.1% increase in available money for water infrastructure direct loans over current levels, from $5.1 billion to $5.6 billion.

A grant program that helps schools replace lead drinking water pipes would get a 37.7% boost in the budget proposal, up to $36.5 million from $26.5 million.

‘Robust’ Request

Although President Donald Trump consistently tried to slash the EPA’s budget, Congress consistently provided the agency with funding levels that were higher than historical norms, and 6% more than what it averaged during the Obama administration.

“The robust budget request will lay a strong foundation for EPA’s future, and help rebuild the agency after years of chronic disinvestment in crucial programs essential to protecting people’s health and the environment,” David Coursen, a former attorney in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel, said in a statement.

Bob Keefe, executive director of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), singled out the enhanced research budget for praise.

“Americans everywhere agree on the importance of innovation to compete with China and other countries,” Keefe said, referring to the budget’s ARPA-C funding. “This will help us do that and pave the way for future jobs growth as well. And remember, President [Donald] Trump wanted to zero out energy research and development when he was in office, so this is long overdue.”

But Ellen Sciales, press secretary at the Sunrise Movement, said Biden already has a track record of offering “‘historic’ plans to gain media praise and support from the left and the people who elected him—but then has dropped the ball and fallen short on those promises.”

(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergindustry.com; Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergindustry.com; Jennifer Hijazi in Washington at jhijazi@bloombergindustry.com; Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergindustry.com; Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com

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