With the House’s passage of a $1.2-trillion continuing resolution funding the federal government through Sept. 30, industry groups are nervous that environmental and infrastructure programs could be scaled back sharply. The House bill, approved on Feb. 19, cuts appropriations by $61 billion compared with 2010 enacted levels.

But the cuts aren’t set in stone. The continuing resolution (CR) now moves to the Senate, where Democratic leaders have slammed the House plan. Industry officials note, however, that Senate Democrats may be forced to make some concessions to avert a government shutdown. The current CR expires on March 4. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Feb. 22 suggested a further 30-day stopgap. Steve Hall, the American Council of Engineering Companies’ vice president for government affairs, says, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see multiple little extensions to give them time to work this out.”

The House bill hammers some construction programs, deleting all $894 million for General Services Administration buildings construction and nearly wiping out the $2.5 billion for high-speed rail.

Also hit hard are Environmental Protection Agency water accounts, with State Revolving Funds for clean water and drinking water slashed by nearly 60%. Hall says, “A cut of this magnitude would severely affect the program and impact a lot of firms.” He adds, “We’ve got to educate these folks, particularly the freshmen, that some of these programs are essential to economic growth.”

John Krohn, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies’ manager of legislative affairs, says the House bill ignores the local agencies’ regulatory mandates and limited resources. He says, “Regulations under the Clean Water Act aren’t going away. They’re getting stronger and more plentiful.” Scott Berry, director of the Associated General Contractors of America’s municipal and utilities construction division, says, “[States and localities] are tapped out in the bond market, and the vehicles for private investment just aren’t there yet.”

The CR also includes riders to block EPA from advancing and enforcing greenhouse-gas regulations. Industry groups support the riders, but Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, says preventing EPA from enforcing greenhouse- gas permitting requirements could result in a “de facto construction ban.”

environmental programs facing cuts
2010 LEVEL*
Clean Water State Revolving Fund
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund
EPA Superfund
EPA Brownfields
Prevents EPA from using federal funds for actions related to greenhouse-gas permitting
Prohibits EPA from using funds to implement or enforce regulations on portland-cement plant emissions
* Millions OF dollars
SOURCE: House Appropriations Committee