December 16, 2011
On Thursday, December 15, members of a House and Senate Conference Committee passed a nine-bill appropriations package, H.R. 2055, to fund most government functions through the end of fiscal year (FY) 2012. The House then voted, 296-121, on Friday afternoon to pass the funding package. The nearly 2,300 page package was scheduled to go to the Senate for a vote late on Friday or over the weekend.
The appropriations package, which is being referred to as a “megabus,” does not include the FY 2012 Agriculture appropriations bill, nor does it include the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development or the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bills. These three bills were signed into law on November 18. We previously reported on the funding levels contained in agriculture appropriations bill.
The “megabus” would provide nearly $1 trillion in discretionary funding to a number of departments, including Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The government is currently operating on a short-term continuing resolution, which expires today. In order to prevent a government shutdown, the Senate will need to follow the House’s lead and send the megabus to the President’s desk before midnight. As a safeguard, however, the House also passed a one-week continuing resolution that the Senate can pass if it needs more time to consider the spending package. The continuing resolution would expire on December 23.
Interestingly, the appropriations megabus was accompanied by two separate bills in the House – the first provides $8 billion in disaster aid for FY 2012, and the second to offset that spending with a 1.83 percent across-the-board cut to all discretionary spending programs, including all of the discretionary agriculture programs. The House passed the disaster funding bill by 351-67 and the offset by 266-165. The Senate is expected to support the disaster spending bill but vote against the across-the-board cut. Hence, the disaster aid funding will become law and will not be offset, but those in the House and Senate who wanted to be on record in support of offsets will have been given that opportunity.
Overall funding for EPA was cut by $233 million from FY 2011 levels. Key EPA programs that provide states and tribes with resources to address clean water issues, including agricultural pollution, were cut $118 million from their FY2011 enacted levels, as follows.
FY2011 Enacted FY2012 Omnibus
Section 319 Grants: $175.5 mil $164.8 mil
Clean Water State Revolving Fund: $1.522 bil $1.469 bil
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund: $963.1 mil $919.4 mil
A number of programs focused on improving specific waters saw funding increases, including funding for the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Gulf of Mexico and South Florida. EPA Funding for Puget Sound, Long Island Sound and Lake Champlain was decreased.
Environmental Riders with Agricultural Implications
An even bigger political issue in the EPA appropriations was not money but policy “riders.” While appropriations bills are technically intended to deal with funding only, appropriators sometimes attach policy riders to their bill to make policy on particular hot button issues that are technically the province of authorizing committees. The House in particular loaded up their appropriations bills with anti-environmental regulation riders. Below is a list of riders that were dropped, and the one among the several included in the final bill that involves agriculture.
1. Attempt to bar the Army Corps of Engineers from updating its regulatory guidance relating to the Clean Water Act. NSAC joined over 170 organizations on a letter, circulated by the Clean Water Network, to Senators that opposed this rider.
2. Attempt to block the EPA from implementing water quality standards in Florida, an issue that focuses on nutrient standards.
3. Attempt to prohibit the reintroduction of salmon in the San Joaquin River in California and an attempt to defund the court ordered settlement regarding water supply and environmental restoration of the San Joaquin River.
4. Attempt to block EPA from protecting Endangered Species from dangerous pesticides.
5. Attempt to eliminate requirements for chemical companies and agricultural producers to obtain Clean Water Act permits for pesticides entering waterways.
6. Attempt to block EPA from developing or implementing regulations related to ammonia emissions.
7. Attempt to block EPA from regulating greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act and from issuing certain Clean Air Act regulations.
Language that was also in FY2010 Appropriations that blocks the EPA from implementing any regulations that requires the reporting of greenhouse gases from manure management systems.
Federal Trade Commission: Voluntary Guidelines for Child Nutrition
The Obama Administration has proposed voluntary guidelines under which the food industry would limit its advertising to children to those foods and drinks that make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet and limit children’s intake of sodium, fats and added sugars. The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, and USDA participated in preparing the guidelines, which will be over seen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The guidelines are contained in a draft report entitled “Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children: Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts.”
Although the guidelines are voluntary, the food industry contends that the guidelines are a “backdoor regulation” that would ban food advertising to children. The Omnibus Appropriations bill includes a rider offered by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) that blocks completion of the draft report unless the Interagency Group working on the Report meets the requirements of a January 2011 Executive Order No. 13563. The Executive Order provides principles for federal regulators including the use of the best science, public participation, identification of the least burdensome methods for achieving their goals, and consideration of the benefits and costs, both quantitative and qualitative, of the regulation. Consumer advocates contend that the Interagency Working Group has met requirements of the Executive Order, except the cost-benefit analysis and that the additional delay posed by preparing the analysis is unwarranted for voluntary guidelines.