Bush's Budget Targets EPA With $450 Million
Darren Samuelsohn, E&E Daily senior reporter
President Bush wants to reduce the U.S. EPA's annual budget by $450 million
under the agency's proposed $7.57 billion spending plan released yesterday.
Atop the cutting board is the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF), one
of the agency's most expensive programs. The program, aimed at improving
wastewater treatment plants, would see the federal share of its funding fall
from just over $1 billion to $730 million under Bush's proposal.
Lawmakers last year reluctantly granted Bush's last recommendation to reduce
funding for the popular program, and the administration appears intent on
following up with further cuts this year. In defense of the proposed $361
million cut, EPA's top water official, Ben Grumbles, said the federal-state
matching loan program is sustainable at the proposed level.
"There's no question there are hard choices in putting together a budget,"
Grumbles said, noting that a host of other EPA programs in Bush's budget are
aimed at improving water quality, including regional efforts on the Chesapeake
Bay and Great Lakes.
Big picture, acting EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said there was little
difference between Bush's overall $7.57 billion spending plan for the agency
when compared with its $8.02 billion enacted level from Congress for FY '05. The
5.6 percent cut is not so significant, Johnson said, if one considers the Bush
budget removes some $500 million in lawmaker-written earmarks added during the
appropriations process. "The budgets are pretty close" when the earmarks are
taken out, he said.
Congress historically has reacted in unpleasant fashion to such justification
for budget cuts. At past hearings with top EPA officials, lawmakers have argued
quite forcefully that they know best what funds are needed for water projects in
their districts. And time and again, that displeasure has evolved into the
restoration of most of the administration's recommended reductions.
But this year may be different. Bush is pressing for fiscal discipline in the
wake of a $421 billion federal deficit, and a handful of GOP leaders are showing
an interest in following suit. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has
argued that one of his reasons for the behind-the-scenes charge to shake up the
appropriations process -- which involves moving EPA and many other environmental
agencies into one spending bill -- is aimed at making it easier for Republicans
to push their priorities into the budget process. "It has a lot of meaning," he
said last week after Bush's State of the Union address. "And it's a very strong
signal to our base."
Supporters of increased funding for water infrastructure countered yesterday
that a tight fiscal climate is not a sufficient reason to cut the federal share
of the revolving loan fund. Wesley Warren, a budget expert at the Natural
Resources Defense Council, noted the $388 billion gap in funding for water
infrastructure needs over the next 20 years that have been documented in recent
EPA, Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office reports.
"We expected it to be bad, and yet it was even worse," said Warren of the water
cuts, and the EPA budget in general.
The Water Infrastructure Network, which includes local elected officials,
wastewater service providers and labor unions, also criticized the Bush budget
cuts. The wastewater levels were "untenable" on both a short- and long-term
basis, WIN spokeswoman Lee Garrigan said in a prepared statement.
Overall, the Bush administration made it a point in yesterday's budget rollout
to tackle what it sees as poor government management by eliminating or cutting
some 150 existing programs. At EPA, that White House directive focused on the
earmarks and the water loan program, as well as a $20 million grant program to
train wastewater operators and a reduction from $40 million to $15 million in
the Alaska Native Villages drinking water and wastewater program.
Elsewhere, the EPA budget sees status quo funding, or modest gains, from
previous years. The agency's Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund would sit
at roughly the same $850 million level that it has been at in recent years. Same
goes for EPA accounts for the inspector general office ($37 million request),
Leaking Underground Storage Tanks fund ($73 million), and oil spill response
program ($16 million).
EPA's Science and Technology account -- which provides funding for a range of
studies, including the health and environmental effects of air pollution,
drinking water quality and global climate change -- would increase slightly to
$761 million under the Bush budget. In FY '05, Congress rejected a Bush request
to fund the EPA science account at $689 million, instead funding it at $744
Cleanup programs under EPA's Superfund and brownfield programs would see slight
increases compared to FY '05 enacted levels. Superfund would go up by about $30
million to $1.28 billion, with the bulk of those funds geared toward cleanup of
some of the nation's largest and most complex sites. Brownfields funding also
heads up under Bush's budget by some $47 million, to $210 million.
The EPA's Environmental Programs and Management account, among the largest
within the agency's budget, would see a slight increase in FY '06 under Bush's
request. The EPM account would go from $2.29 billion to $2.35 billion, with
increases felt in programs that deal with regional watersheds and homeland
New items tacked into EPA's budget include a request for $44 million to start
the "Water Sentinel" program, a pilot project to help select cities conduct
monitoring and surveillance of their drinking water systems. In all, the Bush
budget seeks $185 million for homeland security-related EPA functions.
This year marks the first where Bush has recommended a lower EPA budget compared
to the previous administration request. Bush in FY '05 called on lawmakers to
fund EPA at $7.76 billion. Every year prior to that, Bush budget requests had
been incrementally smaller: $7.63 billion in FY '04, $7.62 billion in FY '03 and
$7.32 billion in FY '02. Former President Clinton sought $7.26 billion for EPA
during his last year in office.
To date, every Bush budget request has been met on Capitol Hill with a
successful push by lawmakers for even greater funds. Congress last year cut EPA
funding for the first time in recent memory, slicing the agency from $8.27
billion in FY '04 to $8.02 billion. EPA received $8.13 billion in FY '03, $7.9
billion in FY '02 and $7.84 billion in FY '01.
The EPA budget will receive its first formal examination from lawmakers
tomorrow, when Johnson testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works