H.R. 2996 provided fiscal year 2010 funding for the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. This was a vote on the Stearns (R-FL) Amendment to the bill, which would have reduced 2010 funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 38%. This reduction would have maintained funding for EPA at the 2009 level. The Republicans and Democrats were engaged in a series of disagreements over the increased level of spending in H.R. 2996, especially as it related to the environmental area. The Republicans criticized the spending increases in the fiscal year 2010 funding bill as excessive, and the Democrats argued that they were primarily restoring cuts that had been made by the previous Bush Administration.
Rep. Stearns, in his statement in support of the amendment, said that “with the economy contracting and unemployment rising, it would simply be irresponsible to increase the Environmental Protection Administration by almost 40 percent . . . during a fiscal crisis. In fact, when combined with funding approved earlier this year in the fiscal year 2009 omnibus budget bill and the stimulus bill, the EPA will receive more than $25 billion in a single calendar year, which is equal to more than three-fourths of the entire Interior Appropriations budget.”
Stearns noted that, since 1970, “federal spending has increased 221 percent, nearly nine times faster than median income. In 2008, publicly held debt, as a percentage of the GDP was 40.8 percent, nearly five points below the historical average. Under President Obama's budget, this figure would more than double to 82.4 percent by 2019.” He concluded his remarks by claiming that the adoption of his amendment “will send a strong message to the American people that Congress is serious about reigning in this out of control government spending. As families across America continue to tighten their belt, Congress needs to do the same.”
Rep. Dicks (D-WA), the chairman of the subcommittee that developed H.R. 2996, opposed the amendment. He noted that, “over the last 8 years, the Interior Department was cut by 16 percent; the Environmental Protection Agency was cut by 29 percent. So this is a little bit of help to get back to an approach that can deal effectively with some of the most important and sensitive programs we have in this country. Dicks noted that the Bush Administration had “reported a $662 billion gap between what our communities will need to spend and the funds they have to do it with. This reduction (proposed by the Stearns Amendment) would mean that the great water bodies of this country will not receive the funding to help restore and protect these special natural resources.”
Dicks argued that the 38% reduction in Environmental Protection Administration funding the amendment would make would mean “almost 1,500 communities across this country would not receive assistance to repair and build drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.” Dicks also argued that this reduction would stop construction and force demobilization of 8 to 10 large ongoing “Superfund” environmental cleanup projects, would prevent the emission certification of new vehicles, fuels, and engines , and would result in a loss of funding for the environmental programs of 217 Indian tribes. He concluded by claiming that it would adversely impact “every American who wants to drink clean water and breathe clean air.”
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 169-259. One hundred and fifty-five Republicans and fourteen Democrats vote “aye”. Two hundred and thirty-nine Democrats and twenty Republicans voted “nay”. As a result, the 2010 fiscal year funding level for the Environmental Protection Agency was not reduced.