Funding for 10 States' Programs Supported by Four Environmental Protection Agency Categorical Grants

GAO-13-504R Published: May 06, 2013. Publicly Released: May 21, 2013.
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What GAO Found

State environmental agencies use federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, in addition to their own funds, to help implement and enforce the nation's environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Under this approach the states have an important role as partners and co-regulators, and, among other things, issue and enforce permits, carry out inspections, and monitor and collect data. EPA provides grants, known as categorical grants, to states to assist in implementing water, air, waste, and other programs that carry out federal environmental requirements.

As EPA grant funding has decreased, the patterns and sources of funding for the 10 states' programs supported by the four EPA grants varied over the past 5 to 9 years, in constant fiscal year 2012 dollars. For example, Hawaii's expenditures from federal sources for its Air Quality program decreased from more than $1 million in fiscal year 2004 to less than $780,000 in fiscal year 2012 (in constant fiscal year 2012 dollars). Conversely, Oklahoma's expenditures from its General Fund for its Water Quality program fluctuated but increased from fiscal year 2004 through fiscal year 2012 (in constant fiscal year 2012 dollars), and Idaho's expenditures for its Air Quality program from its state General Fund remained relatively level over the same time period. State officials reported making different adjustments to programs in response to changes in funding. For example, several state officials reported reorganizing staff in some programs and implementing efforts to be more efficient, such as training staff to conduct work across multiple programs. At the same time, officials in several states reported reducing staff in some programs, cutting less critical programs, and increasing fees. These officials said the effects from these cuts include permitting backlogs, decreased capacity to conduct permitting and monitoring activities, and loss of outreach and technical assistance activities. In addition, officials from several states noted that further cuts would make it difficult to meet the requirements of their EPA grants for their environmental programs.

Why GAO Did This Study

In the last 10 years, appropriations for EPA's categorical grants have generally decreased from a high of $1.17 billion in fiscal year 2004 to $1.09 billion in fiscal year 2012 (in current dollars). Members of Congress and state stakeholders have expressed concerns about the adequacy of EPA categorical grant funding in light of recent economic conditions and the effects on state budgets.

GAO reviewed four of these grants--the Water Pollutant Control, Nonpoint Source, Air Quality, and Underground Injection Control grants--that made up 60 percent of the total budget for categorical grants in fiscal year 2012. GAO also reviewed funding for state programs that use these grants in 10 states, including Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Vermont, and West Virginia.

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GAO is not making any recommendations. GAO provided a draft to the agency for comment. EPA provided technical comments by e-mail, which were incorporated into the report as appropriate. GAO also provided relevant sections of the report to agency officials in the 10 states reviewed. The state agencies provided technical comments, which were incorporated into the report as appropriate.

For more information contact, J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or

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