Roger Wicker has a bone to pick with the Obama administration.
The Southeast — the region that the Mississippi Republican senator calls home — has 20 percent of the nation’s people. But when it comes time for the administration to dole out cash for a clean-air program, the Southeast only gets 12 percent of the program’s funding, Wicker said.
And so, when Environmental Protection Agency head Gina McCarthy came before Congress to testify Wednesday, Wicker finally got a chance to vent his frustration. “How can EPA continue to develop strict new rules and standards while at the same time limiting access to resources for the states to get their fair share?,” Wicker asked.
Grilling administration witnesses is standard fare for opposition party senators, but this time, Wicker’s interrogation didn’t go as planned.
Asked why the administration is giving EPA the short end of the stick, McCarthy’s answer was simple: Because you are making us do it that way.
The region-by-region distribution of the “State and Tribal Assistance Grants” program is set by a decades-old formula, but language in Congressional budgets has blocked the administration from making any changes. EPA couldn’t change the grants around even if it wanted to, McCarthy said.
“We have been looking to do that over a period of time. Congress has actually provided language in our budget that did not allow us to do that last year,” McCarthy said.
If Congress wants a new distribution, McCarthy said, lawmakers will have to change the way they continually write her agency’s budget. “We’ll see what happens in fiscal year ‘15,” she said.
The formula was developed under the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, but it hasn’t been updated to account for population shifts, emission distributions, or other factors. That means that states like Wicker’s are given funding based on their population decades ago, while states in the Northeast are collecting more money because they had more serious pollution problems that have since been addressed.
EPA proposed an updated funding approach in 2010 that factored in population changes and gave it more flexibility, but Congress specifically blocked the change in the agency’s budget. And they’ve kept that change from being made every year since.
And so, for Wicker, the issue has come full circle. An aide to the senator said he would work with “his colleagues, and the EPA, to address this funding discrepancy” as they work on the federal budget.
But changing the formula won’t be easy — it would require some lawmakers to surrender funding their states currently enjoy.
Bill Becker, president of the National Association for Clean Air Agencies, said that the new formula has proven controversial because it will mean that some states would end up losing money at a time when overall grant funding is dwindling.
“They would be hit twice,” said Becker, whose group represents air offices in 45 states. “The converse is those states who would come out as ‘winners’ under a new formula feel they have been ‘losing’ over the past 20 years due to an outdated formula. They keep losing until the formula is revised.”
What We're Following See More »
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.