Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition

Lindsey Bacigal, BacigalL@nwf.org, (734) 887-7113
Jordan Lubetkin, Lubetkin@nwf.org, (734) 904-1589

President’s Budget FAQ

How do Great Lakes and clean water programs fare in the Biden Administration’s budget?
The Biden Administration’s FY2023 proposed $5.8 trillion budget request provides significant boosts in funding for key environmental, clean water, and Great Lakes programs. Increases to key agencies such as the EPA, United States Geological Survey (USGS), United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) serve to build up staff capacity to effectively implement and enhance Great Lakes restoration and protection. However, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) was only funded at $340.1 million–a reduction of $8 million from current funding levels and far short of the $400 million that Congress has authorized for the program.

What’s the major take-away from the budget?
Overall, the Biden Administration’s proposed budget supports clean water priorities, providing a solid foundation on which Congress can start the annual appropriations process. It boosts funding to reduce lead in drinking water, maintains funding for the nation’s primary water infrastructure loan programs, and increases the EPA’s budget to confront climate change and address environmental injustices. However, it comes up short in funding the nation’s principal Great Lakes restoration program–the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. 

The Biden Budget makes a big deal about increasing staffing at agencies like the EPA. Why is this important in terms of efforts to restore the Great Lakes restoration and other clean water priorities?
The EPA is the nation’s environmental watchdog, and it needs to have adequate staffing to do the job–including the administration of programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The Biden Administration has proposed an increase in EPA agency staffing by 1,900 employees to more than 16,200 staff. This investment recognizes the need for employees who enforce environmental laws, better consult with local communities in restoration and protection efforts, and expedite the EPA’s work. EPA staffing was drastically cut by the Trump Administration, so this effort to rebuild the Agency’s capacity is sorely needed to address the multitude of environmental issues across the nation.  

How does the Biden budget compare with previous budgets?
The Biden budget includes game changing funding increases that would dramatically expand and strengthen key agencies, though a few questions remain regarding primary Great Lakes and water infrastructure programs coming up short of authorization levels. The Biden budget includes the largest funding level ever for the EPA: $11.9 billion for fiscal year 2023–a $2.6 billion increase from the current fiscal year funding from Congress ($9.56 billion). 

What do you like about the Biden Administration’s proposed budget?
Clearly, the Biden Administration is prioritizing clean water protections and investments that will help the nation address serious pollution challenges. It supports foundational environmental programs and provides support to the federal agencies charged with carrying out the work. It addresses climate change–which is causing all sorts of problems for the environment and economy–and it is prioritizing getting help to the communities most impacted by pollution.

What don’t you like about the Biden Administration’s proposed budget?
The real head-scratcher in the Biden Budget is the cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Not only was this marquee program not fully funded, the proposal unintentionally put forth an $8 million cut from the recently enacted FY22 level of $348 million, which passed before the budget was written. Further, the request is far below the GLRI’s authorized funding level of $400 million. This is disappointing, as the federal investments through the program have been producing results for many years. Yet, serious threats remain and more work needs to be done. Many communities are still grappling with health-threatening pollution and lack of access to clean, safe, and affordable water. Now is not the time to cut back on this successful program.

Explain the significance of the Biden Administration’s request versus the amount Congress has authorized. Why is this important?
There is a limit to how much the federal government can spend on programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is referred to as an authorization. Congress has authorized up to $400 million in funding for the GLRI in FY23. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has urged the Biden Administration and the U.S. Congress to fund the GLRI and other clean water programs at their authorized levels (in this case, $400 million) for several reasons. The most important reason is that there is still a glaring need: The region still suffers from toxic pollution, sewage overflows, and harmful algal blooms that close beaches, poison drinking water, and make fish unsafe to eat. These are serious public health threats that need to be addressed. It is also important to address these problems now, because delay will only make the problem worse and more costly to solve.

Why did the Biden Administration propose cutting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative?
We don’t know! Federal investments to restore the Great Lakes have been producing results in local communities, and we need to keep up the good work to make sure that everyone has access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water. We don’t agree with this decision and will work with Congress to fund the GLRI to FY23 authorized levels..

The bipartisan infrastructure law is going to provide billions of dollars of new funding for clean water priorities over the next five years, including $1 billion for Great Lakes restoration actions. Doesn’t that make up for any cuts in the Biden Administration budget?
The bipartisan infrastructure law is going to be transformational over the next five years–injecting long-overdue federal investment to update our nation’s inadequate drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, as well as bolster Great Lakes restoration investments. That said, it will not fix all of our problems. For instance, the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have a staggering $188 billion of work needed to update their drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. So while the bipartisan infrastructure law deserves to be celebrated and appreciated–it truly is a game changer–it will be important in future years to not allow these funds to supplant annual federal investments. For instance, the $1 billion in the bipartisan infrastructure law is targeted to cleaning up almost all of the most contaminated sites in the Great Lakes by 2030, but annual appropriations are still needed to address the other four remaining GLRI program areas

What comes next?
Presidential budgets kick off the annual budgeting process. Congress controls the purse strings and will have the final say in terms of what programs get funded at what levels in the next federal budget. The proposed budget emphasizes the Biden Administration’s commitment to clean water protection, ecosystem restoration, and addressing environmental injustice. This is a strong starting point for the U.S. House and Senate to begin debate on next year’s funding package. The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition looks forward to working with Congress to ensure that Great Lakes and clean water priorities receive the attention they deserve in the final funding package.

Biden budget, by the numbers

Agency Funding

  • EPA
    • $11.9 billion budget request for the agency, an increase of $2.3 billion (a nearly 24% increase over fiscal year 2022 (FY22) enacted).
  • NOAA
    • $6.9 billion request for the agency, an increase of over $1 billion (a nearly 17% increase over FY22 enacted).
  • USGS
    • $2 billion appropriations request for the agency, an increase of over $300 million (a 21% increase over FY22 enacted).
    • $3.7 billion request for the agency, an increase of $350 million (a 21% increase over FY22 enacted).

Water Infrastructure
Overall, the President’s budget includes $4.4 billion for water infrastructure, advancing efforts to upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure which will protect water quality, enhance community resilience, and ensure communities have safe drinking water. 

Funding for specific programs, includes:

  • State Revolving Funds (pg. 13-15, 61-64, EPA’s budget breakdown)
    • CWSRF
      • The Clean Water SRF, which helps communities fix and upgrade wastewater infrastructure, was funded at $1.64 billion. Congress funded the program at $1.64 billion in the current fiscal year. 
      • This funding level is lower than the FY23 authorized level, which is $4.38 billion.
    • DWSRF
      • The Drinking Water SRF, which helps communities fix and upgrade drinking water infrastructure, was funded at $1.13 billion. Congress funded the program at $1.13 billion in the current fiscal year.
      • This funding level is lower than the FY23 authorized level, which is $3.87 billion. 
  • Other key programs
    • Overall
      • According to the EPA’s budget breakdown, “In FY 2023, a combined $340.7 million is requested to implement programs created by AWIA [America’s Water Infrastructure Act] across four program projects, including: Drinking Water Infrastructure Resilience, Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse grants, Technical Assistance for Wastewater Treatment Work, and Water Infrastructure Workforce Investment” (pg. 60).
        • Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Grants
          • $280 million request for the program, which meets FY23 authorization levels, and is an increase from FY22 enacted at $43 million
        • Water Infrastructure Workforce Development
          • $17.711 million request for the program, a significant increase from the FY22 enacted level of $4 million
      • The Biden Administration’s budget also proposes $560 million to support 20 new grant programs authorized by the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (pg. 64, EPA’s budget breakdown). A few highlights include:
        • $50 million for the Household Decentralized Wastewater Grant Program
        • $75 million for the Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability Grant Programs, which includes $50 million for Midsize and Large Drinking Water System Infrastructure Resilience and Sustainability and $25 million for the Clean Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Program

The Biden Administration is integrating consideration of climate change impacts across agency decision-making and investing in science, resilience, and public engagement. The following breaks down agency investments in relation to climate change. 

  • EPA
    • The President’s budget prioritizes EPA funding for tackling the climate crisis.
    • This includes $100 million in grants to Tribes and states that will support on-the-ground efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resiliency in the nation’s infrastructure. 
  • NOAA
    • According to an NOAA press release, the budget proposes $350 million to expand NOAA’s role in climate science with the goal of building critical climate products and services to enhance federal and local responses to climate change and build resiliency across communities. 
    • Also proposed, $491 million to restore marine, estuarine, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems. 
  • USGS
    • According to a USGS press release, “The 2023 budget funds critical science on climate change as it relates to ecosystems, species and biodiversity—including science on species at-risk of needing protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
    • The same release states, “One key focus in the 2023 budget is understanding the impacts of sea-level rise and extreme storm events on coastal wetland ecosystems. The USGS would expand decision-support tools for conserving biodiversity in the face of climate-related impacts and develop tools and models for predicting the impacts of a changing climate on water availability and ecosystem health.”
    • As per an USFWS press release, “The Service is focusing on climate change across all of its programs. The Service’s Science Applications activity, consisting of Cooperative Landscape Conservation and Science Support programs, works with partners in developing plans to conserve landscapes across the country to address climate change as well as other conservation needs. The Service is requesting a total of $57.5 million for these programs.”
  • Army Corps of Engineers
    • The President’s budget includes $600,000 for the Great Lakes Coastal Resiliency Study.
    • Of note, the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition requested $3 million for the study. Though lower than requested, a second year of funding to move this study forward is positive progress. 

Environmental injustice
According to an EPA press release, “The Budget invests more than $1.45 billion across the Agency’s programs that will help create good-paying jobs, clean up pollution, advance racial equity, and secure environmental justice for all communities.” In FY23 this will include “$300.8 million and 211.9 FTE in the Environmental Justice program will expand support for community-based organizations, indigenous organizations, Tribes, states, local governments, and territorial governments in pursuit of identifying and addressing environmental justice issues through multi-partner collaborations” (pg. 10, EPA budget breakdown). 

The EPA is also aiming to implement the Biden Administration’s Justice40 Initiative, “with the goal of delivering at least 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to underserved and overburdened communities” (pg. 10, EPA budget breakdown). 

The EPA has requested $295 million for the Environmental Justice program (pg. 4, EPA budget breakdown), which includes:

  • $140 million for environmental justice implementation grants (an increase from the FY22 enacted level of $94 million)
  • $50 million for competitive grants to reduce the disproportionate health impacts of environmental pollution in environmental justice communities
  • $25 million for an Environmental Justice Community Grant Program for grants to nonprofits to reduce the disproportionate health impacts of environmental pollution in environmental justice communities
  • $25 million for an Environmental Justice State Grant Program for grants to states to create or support state environmental justice programs
  • $25 million for a Tribal Environmental Justice Grant Program for grants to tribes or intertribal consortia to support tribal work to eliminate disproportionately adverse human health or environmental effects on environmental justice communities in Tribal and Indigenous communities
  • $15 million for a competitive Community-based Participatory Research Grant Program for grants to institutions of higher education to develop partnerships with community-based organizations to improve the health outcomes of residents and workers in environmental justice communities
  • $10 million for an Environmental Justice Training Program for grants to nonprofits for multi-media or single media activities to increase the capacity of residents of underserved communities to identify and address disproportionately adverse human health or environmental effects of pollution. 

Invasive species
Key federal agencies are proposing funding increases for action against invasive species, including invasive carp. Examples include: 

  • USGS is requesting $47.9 million for the Biological Threats and Invasive Species Research Program–an increase of $7.5 million over fiscal year 2022 enacted, with an expanded focus on climate-driven invasive species.
  • USFWS is requesting an expansion of the aquatic invasive species program.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers is advancing construction on the Brandon Road Lock and Dam by including $47.9 million in the budget request. This is important in the effort to keep invasive carp out of the Great Lakes. They are also requesting $14.3 million for supporting operations and maintenance of the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal. 

The President’s budget is requesting $182 million for the Reducing Lead in Drinking Water program, which is an increase of more than $160 million over previously enacted. This includes a request of $80 million for the Safe Water for Small and Disadvantaged Communities Drinking Water grant program, a large increase from the $27 million enacted in FY22; and $36.5 million to continue funding of the Voluntary School and Child Care Lead Testing grant program. 

As per the EPA’s press release, “PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that threaten the health and safety of communities across the Nation. As part of the President’s commitment to tackling PFAS pollution, the Budget provides approximately $126 million in FY 2023 for EPA to increase its understanding of human health and ecological effects of PFAS, restrict uses to prevent PFAS from entering the air, land, and water, and remediate PFAS that have been released into the environment. EPA will continue to act on the Agency’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap to safeguard communities from PFAS contamination.”