United States $100 bills randomly laid out in a pile.

EPA under fire over handling of billions in new funds

© iStock - alfexe
Casey Harper

(The Center Square) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in hot water after regulators seemed to suggest they had more money than they could spend but needed to spend it anyway.

That funding came in part from the Inflation Reduction Act, and now lawmakers are pointing to watchdog reports showing rampant waste, fraud and abuse could become a major issue for the environmental agency.

Morgan Griffith, R-Va., led a hearing Wednesday where lawmakers heard from several experts, including Sean O’Donnell, the inspector general for the EPA. Griffith pointed to the national deficit, raising questions about how the EPA is using federal funds in a time of rising debt.

"Of course, numerous factors impact the federal budget outlook, but one thing is certain," he said at the hearing. "Over the past two years, your federal government has been spending taxpayer dollars like it was Monopoly money."

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Griffith and Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, sent a letter to the EPA Tuesday raising concerns about EPA's use of funds after controversial comments on the EPA website.

“In an informational video posted on its website, an EPA representative stated, 'we have to spend all three billion dollars of the IRA funding for environment and climate justice by September 30th of 2026, that is less than four years from today, every dollar has got to be out the door from EPA or it disappears, and it goes back to the Treasury,”' the letter said.

The lawmakers argue that rush to spend can lead to rampant waste, fraud and abuse.

“For example, GAO examined lessons learned from grant management of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding and noted that President Obama’s push to spend funds quickly created a ‘large spike in spending’ for some agencies, and that this law required an accelerated rollout of funding,” the letter said. “As a result, GAO concluded that some federal agencies encountered oversight challenges.”

The questions come as Congressional Republicans also work to roll back the EPA Waters of the United States rule, which gives the federal government broad power over even small local ponds.

The lawmakers called for documents and answers about how funding will be used, pointing out the EPA does not have a perfect track record. Federal watchdogs have raised similar concerns.

“EPA’s grant programs have suffered historically from documented shortcomings,” the letter said. “For example, the EPA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) previously concluded that EPA needed to strengthen controls over its grants, including recipient monitoring and accurate reporting of grants data. Previous OIG and Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviews also found that EPA needed to establish clear guidance and monitor grants and cooperative agreements appropriately. According to the EPA OIG, a heightened risk of fraud accompanies the recent influx of funding.”