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Energy, enviro earmarks in the final fiscal 2024 bills

March 5, 2024   Politico

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Many energy and environmental programs are in for cuts in spending legislation Congress is planning to pass in the coming days, but set-asides for lawmakers’ projects back home aren’t suffering.


The spending bill, which includes six fiscal 2024 bills, represents a huge year for congressional earmarks, in which lawmakers give sometimes millions of dollars to specific projects in their home states or districts.


The practice was long dormant, but Democrats revived a limited version in 2021. Republicans added some restrictions for earmarks — now dubbed "community project funding" — when they took the House majority last year.


The package released Sunday includes $12.7 billion in earmarked federal dollars for 6,630 local and state projects. Though it’s just six of the 12 appropriations bills, the total already exceeds the $9.1 billion in fiscal 2022 earmarks and is on pace to exceed fiscal 2023’s total of $15.3 billion for more than 7,000 projects.


The Energy-Water title has earmarks for 273 infrastructure and energy projects, adding up to $1.6 billion, the House Appropriations Committee said. The Interior-Environment piece has 1,146 earmarks, costing $1.56 billion.


The bill tasks EPA alone with administering nearly 1,000 earmarks costing $1.35 billion. The bulk of that money is from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program.


The largest earmark in the Interior-EPA bill is $23.6 million, requested by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), for the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance for a wastewater project.


“This project will construct wastewater conveyance systems from the South Dakota communities of Colton, Lyons, and Crooks to a new mechanical treatment facility in Hartford, allowing for further residential, commercial, and industrial development,” Thune said on his website.


Other big priorities for earmarks in the Interior-EPA bill include the Fish and Wildlife Service’s resource management projects, U.S. Forest Service money for state and private forestry projects, and historic preservation work by the National Park Service.


In the Energy-Water title, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Chickamauga Lock project on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga is set for $236.8 million.


It’s a longtime priority of Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Energy-Water Appropriations Subcommittee. Fleischmann has argued that the project to replace the decades-old lock is critical to the region’s economy.


It was the biggest request for the latest Energy-Water bill, though other projects ended up getting more money thanks to President Joe Biden’s budget seeking higher amounts.


One of those big winners is the Everglades restoration project in South Florida, championed by Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.). It’s due to get $425 million, though only $10 million was formally requested by Mast due to the House’s internal rules.


An Army Corps project to build a new lock at the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, is getting $257.4 million. Reps. John James (R-Mich.) and Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) formally requested only $20 million due to the House rules but backed the higher figure.


“Michigan is the hub of America’s vehicle and military industry. The Soo Locks are critical to our state and national economy,” James said in a statement. “I will continue to fight to bolster the Soo Locks for generations to come.”


Despite Republicans being some of the biggest beneficiaries of earmarks, others in their party are highly critical of the spending and blamed Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).


“Schumer’s +1,000 page spending rampage,” Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) called the earmarks on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Keep in mind, we will be borrowing the money to pay for these pet-projects.”


He mocked projects like $1.6 million Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) requested for a housing and green energy technology development in Mount Vernon, New York, sponsored by a group called Environmental Leaders of Color; $1.1 million for electric bus charging project in St. Petersburg, Florida; and $963,000 for police in Tampa, Florida, to buy electric vehicles. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) requested the funding for both Florida projects.


Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) specifically criticized Schumer for securing $1 million for an environmental justice center planned by the group WE ACT for Environmental Justice.


“It's just like the swamp to take YOUR money, borrow more, and push it all into reckless political pet projects. That’s earmarks in a nutshell,” he wrote on X.