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Following the Money – A Quick Look at the EPA Budget


“Follow the Money” is said to have been uttered by “Deep Throat,” the source for the Washington Post reporters, Bernstein and Woodward, who investigated the Watergate affair, which of course culminated with the resignation of the President in 1974.1 Since that time, the phrase has worked its way into the vocabulary of investigators of all stripes – reporters, accountants, lawyers, whoever may have the job to find out what is happening or has happened both inside and outside of government.

In an unrelated, but contemporary, event, Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, at what may have been the dawn of the Watergate Era. According to the EPA website, the agency’s very first budget in Fiscal Year (FY) 1970 was just over $1 billion. In the ensuing years, the agency’s budget grew steadily until it exceeded $10 billion in FY 2010. That amounts to an average annual increase of about $225 million over 40 years. That growth in the EPA budget includes a very large increase from FY 2009 to FY 2010 of $2.65 billion, a one year increase of more than 10 times the annual average increase over 40 years, and about 35% over the FY 2009 budget.

Although the EPA budget is small in comparison to the total annual federal budget,2 the way the agency spends our tax dollars has an impact on all of us, including the people who own and run businesses subject to the EPA’s regulatory programs and jurisdiction. Following the money in the EPA’s budget gives us the “big picture” on how the agency uses the money. The proposed budget for FY 2011, totaling approximately $8.7 billion, would represent a decrease of approximately $1.6 billion from the FY 2010 budget;3 nevertheless, it still exceeds the FY 2009 spending level by over $1 billion.

Although a detailed analysis of the EPA’s budget is beyond the scope of this article, its use of tax dollars can be viewed on a broader scale. The EPA budget covers five environmental areas to be addressed in 2012 with taxpayer money. A breakdown of the areas, with percentage of budget and approximate dollar amounts is:

By far, the greatest share of EPA spending is focused on EPA’s efforts to maintain and improve the quality of our nation’s waters, followed by environmental cleanups and air quality programs, including climate change. Enforcement of environmental laws places fourth on the list of budget expenditures, followed by chemical safety and pollutions prevention. This look at the EPA budget is the first in a series. In coming articles, we’ll look deeper at the EPA’s budget, and how their use of tax money impacts us. We’ll Follow the Money.

1 William Goldman‘s screenplay for the 1976 film “All the President’s Men” is often cited as the genesis for the phrase “Follow the Money.” 

2 Our government’s “burn rate” is about $10 billion per day, which during 2011, is 3.7 Trillion dollars, or 10 Billion dollars a day.

3 At the time this article was written, the FY 2012 federal budget had not yet been approved, and the government was operating on a series of Continuing Resolutions.

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