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EPA Budget Increase Request Highlights Policy Priorities

Jeff Hannapel

The Biden administration has requested a nearly 20% budget increase to address its environmental priorities and restore the agency to support its ambitious agenda on a wide range of environmental and climate-related issues. The request reflects White House priorities and is expected to prompt a varied response in Congress. Consistent with the request, EPA has also added climate change, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and environmental justice to its National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives for the next four years. All of these priorities will likely impact metalcasting operations nationwide.

Citing staffing reductions under the Trump administration that have limited EPA’s ability to carry out its mission to protect clean air and water, tackle the climate crisis, and promote environmental justice, the Biden administration requested 2,400 new personnel to address the agency’s critical capacity issues and its ambitious agenda of environmental and climate-related priorities. The increase would expand the EPA workforce to 17,000, but the administration claims that a workforce of 20,000 is needed at EPA to reach critical capacity.  

Staff Workload, Chemical Law Implementation Concerns

As further support for this effort, the EPA career staff labor union reports that the “staff are being worked to death and are under the greatest pressure they’ve ever encountered as agency employees.” For example, EPA seeks to “build core capacity” for its program to implement the overhauled Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that is tasked with conducting comprehensive risk evaluations and identifying management options for priority existing chemicals and new chemicals.
Proponents of restoring critical capacity at EPA argue that the staff and funding increases are needed now, to enable the administration to finalize the many environmental, climate-related, and environmental justice initiatives and rulemakings over the next two years. Regardless of staff and funding increases, the metalcasting industry can expect a full complement of new regulatory requirements and compliance enforcement activities impacting its operations over the next two years.

Budget Boost for Environmental Justice Activities

Following last fall’s elevation of both environmental justice and civil rights to a new national program office, the Office of Environmental Justice and External Civil Rights (OEJECR), EPA has requested $369 million for environmental justice and $31 million for civil rights. These levels are $267 million more for environmental justice and $18 million more for civil rights compared to last year’s approved budget.

The increase would provide additional funding and staff to support implementation of the Biden administration’s new “Justice40” initiative, which targets delivering at least 40% of the benefits of the federal infrastructure investments to underserved and overburdened communities impacted by pollution and climate change. As part of this effort, the new OEJECR will work to develop an environmental justice and civil rights “cumulative impacts analysis” framework to assess the potential harm environmental permitting and other regulatory activities could have on disadvantaged communities.

Although it may be difficult to get the budget request approved in Congress with the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, the effort reflects the administration’s focus on, and commitment to, environmental justice and civil rights to reduce the environmental impacts on disadvantaged communities where many metalcasting operations are located. Accordingly, metalcasting facilities need to continue to prepare to address these priorities and the potential impacts on their operations.