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EPA Would See Highest Funding Ever Under Biden Budget Plan (2)

March 28, 2022, 2:43 PMUpdated: March 28, 2022, 5:51 PM

President Joe Biden wants to boost the EPA’s budget by 28.8%—its highest level ever—including significant hikes for environmental justice plus boosts for staffing and longstanding air, water, and chemicals programs.

At $11.9 billion, the White House’s fiscal 2023 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency matches Biden’s many environmental commitments and would pump life into an agency the Trump administration sought to diminish.

Included in Biden’s budget plan is funding for the EPA to hire 1,900 new employees. The request would boost the agency’s ranks by 13.3% from fiscal 2021 levels, growing it to 16,200 employees—its highest level in 11 years.

EPA’s fiscal 2021 enacted budget was $9.2 billion. The requested increase in the proposal is compared to the fiscal 2021 spending level, which agencies were operating under with some adjustments until passage of this month’s fiscal 2022 spending law.

The staffing funds would also be used to significantly expand the EPA’s paid internship program to “develop a pipeline of qualified staff,” according to a White House budget overview. Agency officials have acknowledged that the EPA faces a wave of retirements in the coming years and must do a better job of recruiting a new generation of scientists, attorneys, regulators, and inspectors.

Congressional appropriators routinely ignore presidential budget requests, meaning Biden’s plan is mostly a statement of the administration’s values, a starting point for negotiations, and a signal about the fights ahead.

Agency head Michael Regan said in a statement that the budget request “reflects this administration’s unwavering commitment to protect people from pollution, especially those living in overburdened and underserved communities across America.”

Justice40, Cleanup Funds

Superfund cleanups of waste sites, which have already benefited from big funding increases since Biden took office, would see healthy funding under the proposal. The budget plan requests nearly $1.2 billion for Superfund activities, including remediation and cleanup of waste sites.

Funding for Superfund cleanups got a boost under the bipartisan 2021 infrastructure law, which added $3.5 billion for the program and reinstated a polluter tax for chemical products shelved since the mid-1990s. The agency has accelerated cleanups at dozens of sites with the arrival of the first $1 billion in funding from the package, but more than 1,300 sites are on EPA’s National Priorities List.

Federal efforts to address disadvantaged communities long suffering from pollution and largely ignored by the clean energy revolution would see an historic investment of $1.45 billion in fiscal 2023 under the plan. The spending would help advance Biden’s Justice40 effort, which promises 40% of clean energy, clean water, and other investment benefits will flow to disadvantaged communities.

The request includes $100 million for the EPA to support new community air quality monitoring and additional funds for environmental protection for communities on the frontlines, along with beefed up civil rights compliance and support for community input for environmental permitting.

Funding for Clean Air Act implementation would be boosted, receiving $213 million under the proposal for civil enforcement within pollution-burdened communities.

The EPA’s wildfire prevention and readiness actions would receive $13 million, ahead of the 2022 wildfire season set to begin by summer’s end. States and tribes would get $1.3 billion in grants for pollution prevention and control, which includes monitoring of particulate matter emissions.

The budget also asks for an additional $35 million to bolster the phasedown of ozone-eroding hydrofluorocarbons, a component of Biden’s first major climate rule finalized in 2021. The funding would support the gradual decrease of the chemical’s use, largely for industrial refrigeration and cooling, and help crack down on illegal trading.

Chemical Efforts

The EPA’s efforts to study, control, and remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, would get a 45% boost—from $57 million in the 2021 enacted level to $126 million under the requested budget.

PFAS, a group of thousands of substances, are often dubbed “forever chemicals,” because an unknown number of them linger for decades in the environment and years in people’s bodies. The chemicals of concern also are associated with increased cholesterol, thyroid dysfunction, weakened immune systems, and other problems.

Biden’s requested budget would boost the EPA’s capacity to oversee commercial chemicals by seeking $124.2 million for the Toxic Substances Control Act program. That would be a $64 million increase over an estimated $60.3 million in funds if the agency had been funded for all of fiscal 2022 under a continuing resolution.

The agency also requested 149 additional full time employees for that program. Michal Ilana Freedhoff, assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, has often discussed the agency’s need for more money and staff to comply with the many additional mandates in the 2016 TSCA amendments.

The EPA on Monday also released its final strategic plan for fiscal years 2022 through 2026 to accompany the budget request. The plan includes a strategic goal focused exclusively on dealing with climate change in addition to a goal to advance environmental justice and civil rights.

“I’m confident that our plan meets the moment,” Regan said in a statement.

(Updates with information on EPA Strategic Plan.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergindustry.com; Pat Rizzuto in Washington at prizzuto@bloombergindustry.com; Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergindustry.com; Jennifer Hijazi in Washington at jhijazi@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergindustry.com; Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com