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US Senate committee rejects Trump's proposed EPA cuts

Rejecting the Trump administration's call to slash the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's funding, U.S. Senate lawmakers advanced legislation June 14 that would keep appropriations for the agency steady in fiscal year 2019.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations voted 31-0 to approve its fiscal year 2019 spending bill for the EPA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and related agencies, setting up the legislation for Senate floor consideration.

The bill would provide $8.058 billion for the EPA, equal to fiscal year 2018 enacted levels and surpassing the $6.191 billion the White House sought in its fiscal year 2019 budget request to Congress. Within that total, funding for environmental programs and management, including for clean air programs, would remain essentially unchanged at about $2.6 billion, which is well above the White House's proposal of $1.78 billion, according to a committee report on the bill. The bill also does not include the administration's requested funds for EPA workforce reductions and does not anticipate the agency consolidating or closing any of its regional offices in fiscal year 2019.

The Senate legislation would continue support for the Energy Star program consistent with 2018 levels. The Trump administration had called for zeroing out funding for the voluntary initiative, which aims to bolster building and appliance efficiency, and shifting management of the program to private or nongovernment entities.

Interior would get $13.171 billion under the Senate bill, exceeding President Donald Trump's request of $10.588 billion. The committee recommended roughly $1.3 billion for the Bureau of Land Management, which is above the White House's call for just over $1.0 billion, according to the committee report. The BLM oversees leasing of federal lands for energy production.

The Senate bill also would provide $252.8 million for the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, more than double the $121.7 million proposed by Trump. The White House and Senate committee both sought $129.4 million for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in fiscal year 2019.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the committee's Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee, said the fiscal 2019 legislation echoed the approach the committee took in 2017 by "rejecting unwarranted decreases" included in the administration's budget request. Murkowski noted that the bill also excluded controversial policy riders, which cleared the way for unanimous committee approval.

Subcommittee ranking member Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the bill contained some policy provisions that disappointed him, including with respect to sage grouse protections and the regulation of biomass as an energy source. Udall also protested policy riders in the U.S. House of Representatives' Interior and EPA spending bill, which contains a proposal to fully repeal the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Rule.

"There are already 20 ... poison pill riders in the House version, most of which we have seen before and dropped in conference because of their partisan and divisive nature," Udall said. "If past is prelude, the bill will probably attract dozens more on the House floor."

Congress is hoping to follow "regular order" on spending bills this year, which would involve passing all 12 separate appropriations bills before the 2019 fiscal year starts in October. If they do so, House and Senate lawmakers will need to reconcile their respective appropriations bills, including those for Interior and EPA.

EPA ethics controversies come up

Along with approving the Interior and environment spending bill, the Senate committee signed off on a managers' package of amendments to that bill.

Those amendments included a measure from Udall regarding ethics compliance and spending at federal agencies. The amendment would require that none of the funds made available through the bill can be used in violation of executive branch ethics standards.

The proposal comes as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a barrage of scrutiny over his spending and management practices. Pruitt's conduct is the subject of over a dozen investigations being conducted by Congress, the EPA's inspector general, the White House and other ethics officials, which has prompted key Republicans in Congress to call for a hearing on the matters.