Legislators Grill EPA Chief on FY 2009 Budget Cuts

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill had two questions for EPA Chief Stephen Johnson during a Feb. 27 hearing: Why is the Bush administration slashing the budget to cut funding for vital programs that remediate Superfund sites, combat global warming and improve water infrastructure, and why isn't the EPA doing something about it?

Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chastised Johnson for “being satisfied” with President George W. Bush's FY 2009 budget request, which would provide EPA with $7.14 billion to fund its programs.

This is a $330 million (4.4 percent) decrease from FY 2008's budget. According to Committee Chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the cuts include over $270 million from EPA programs that clean up and restore lakes, rivers and streams. In addition, resources for remediating contaminated toxic waste sites would take a hit, as the proposed budget represents a 16 percent decline in the total Superfund budget since FY 2002, she said.

Another area of concern for Senate committee members was a $133.1 million cut to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Funds. Such a cut would be devastating, lawmakers said, as communities use the loans to prevent water pollution. Additionally, Bush's FY 2009 budget shortchanges the Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUST) Trust Fund, which helps pay for cleaning up leaking underground tanks that pollute drinking water supplies. The proposed budget would reduce funding for that program by $29.8 million.

The proposed budget provides no funding for a greenhouse gas registry, which allows the federal government to track the nation's sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Johnson explained the agency's budget reduction by recognizing “the challenge of managing in a time of tight fiscal constraints.” But he also pointed out that the proposed 2009 spending plan proposes “the largest enforcement budget ever” — an increase of $9 million for a total budget of $563 million.

Johnson deflected questions from Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., about the possibility of the White House influencing Johnson's decision to reject California's request for a waiver, which would have allowed the state to impose stricter greenhouse gas emissions standards on cars and light trucks.

Johnson acknowledged that he talked to White House officials about the subject but refused to say if they provided any input.

Johnson's testimony came a day after internal documents released by Boxer revealed that EPA officials had urged Johnson to approve the waiver, saying that a denial could compromise the agency's integrity.

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