Proposed EPA cuts punctuate hearing on Clean Air Act bill

By Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter

The official focus of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing yesterday was a revived Republican bill to rewrite key tenets of the Clean Air Act, but Democrats took it as an opportunity to pre-emptively question the potential impact of newly proposed budget cuts on U.S. EPA.

The administration's bare-bones spending blueprint for fiscal 2018, released last week and scheduled to be fleshed out later this spring, would slash EPA's budget by 31 percent (E&E Daily, March 16).

And yesterday's hearing on H.R. 806, the "Ozone Standards Implementation Act," offered clear evidence that spending issues are already bubbling up in the broader debate over federal environmental policy.

Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York, the ranking member on the environment subcommittee, led off. "We must assume state and local air quality management grants ... will not be immune from these cuts," he said in his opening statement, pointing his remarks at a witness panel dominated by state and local air regulators.

Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) followed later with a question about the effect of the White House's proposed elimination of targeted airshed grants, which steer cleanup money to pollution hot spots.

Reductions to incentive funding of any kind "will be devastating to our efforts," replied Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which covers a portion of central California that struggles with some of the nation's worst ozone problems.

And while bill supporters noted that EPA is already routinely late in meeting some of its statutory responsibilities, more budget cuts would mean "it's going to be another 20 years before they can get some of these things done," Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) said.