The Latest Target of House Spending Cuts: EPA’s Smart Growth Office

For much of this week, the House has been debating next year’s appropriations bill for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. The bill includes harsh cuts to many key safety and environmental programs, including the EPA’s Smart Growth Office. According to the Obama administration’s statement of policy on the bill, “The bill terminates funding for EPA’s Smart Growth program, which contributes to efforts to assist communities in coordinating infrastructure investments and minimizing environmental impact of development.”

San Francisco's Mint Plaza won an EPA Smart Growth award last year. Photo: ##http://blogs.sfweekly.com/foodie/2010/07/mint_plaza_farmers_market.php##SF Weekly##

Smart Growth America opposes the cut, calling it “shortsighted” and saying it would be “detrimental to economic growth.” According to SGA:

The EPA’s smart growth programs assist communities on a diversity of projects, like creating a range of housing and transportation choices for residents and workers, growing local economies, protecting the environment and public health, and improving local infrastructure. For example, the rural communities of Driggs and Victor in Idaho received a Smart Growth Implementation Assistance award to help identify steps to redevelop their downtown economies. Hundreds of other communities across the country have received similar assistance under the smart growth program, but these economically vital efforts would come to an end under the House legislation.

Four Democrats sent a letter to their House colleagues yesterday asking them to oppose the cuts.

“The program, with its voluntary, market-driven approach, has directly assisted communities across the country, helping them increase economic development, protect the environment and public health, improve their infrastructure, and ensure efficient use of government services,” the letter stated. “The Smart Growth programs face such high demand that they are only able to help 9 percent of current applicants.”

The House has been voting on amendments for the past few days, essentially approving further cuts and rejecting anything that would restore funding.

All budget appropriations are highly speculative as Congress remains in the midst of furious debt ceiling negotiations, which will undoubtedly lead to budget cuts of some kind. In addition, the House almost never passes appropriations bills in time for the new fiscal year, which begins October 1. Sometimes, the best they can do is pass constant extensions of the previous year’s budget.

This year’s budget, passed in April, was a mish-mash of compromises and deals, not a strict interpretation of the appropriations committee’s work. It’s not like Congress has gotten any less fractious and dysfunctional since then, so we’ll just sit back and watch the carnage this time around.

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