President George Bush is asking Congress for $7.7 billion to fund the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in fiscal year 2003, a $200 million increase over last year''s request, but a drop of $300 million from the $8 billion Congress appropriated for the agency in fiscal year 2002. The budget includes a 100 percent increase for the Brownfields program, as well as significant increases for watershed protection.
"Our proposed request provides almost $3.5 billion in grants for states, tribes and other partners," noted EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "The president and I both believe that not all wisdom resides in Washington, D.C., and that lots of innovative, creative and effective environmental progress is being made by state, county and local governments."
The budget request sets aside funds for a number of programs, including:
- Brownfields development. The administration wants $200 million for the Brownfields program, which reclaims abandoned industrial sites and converts them to new uses within communities.
- Watershed projects. Bush wants $21 million for a new program where EPA and its environmental partners will target 20 specific watershed projects for improvement. A public-private partnership effort, the program will replicate successful approaches of watershed restoration projects, such as the Charles River Initiative in New England.
- The state enforcement grant program. The budget request includes $15 million earmarked to help states and tribes take on greater responsibility for the enforcement of environmental laws and regulations, allowing them to prioritize their enforcement needs.
- National Environmental Technology Competition. This new program recognizes and rewards innovative technologies that produce more effective and lower-cost solutions to environmental problems and to stimulate development where major technology gaps exist. Bush is seeking $10 million to fund the program.
- Homeland security. Under the budget request, EPA seeks an additional $124 million for homeland security. Combined with resources provided in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation Act of 2002, this represents a two-year total of $300 million in new resources. EPA plays a critical role in preparing for and responding to terrorist incidents because of its experience in emergency preparedness and response to hazardous material releases. Included in this figure is $20 million to address threats to the nation''s drinking water supply. Also included in the request for homeland security is $75 million so that the agency can research better techniques for cleaning up buildings contaminated by biological agents.
"Taken together, the President''s proposed budget for FY 2003 fully supports the work of this agency," Whitman said. "It will enable us to transform this agency''s 30-year mission to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. It brings us that much closer to realizing our goal of cleaner air for all Americans to breathe, purer water for all Americans to drink and swim and fish in, and better protected land for all Americans to enjoy and cherish for generations to come."
What Whitman fails to mention is that some of EPA''s budget requests come at the expense of other programs, ones which have not received a lot of support from the Bush administration. For example, much of the money budgeted for homeland security - some $83 million - comes from money previously allocated to the Superfund program, with the remainder coming out of the agency''s operating budget.
The administration also proposes to eliminate $344 million in special projects added by Congress to last year''s budget, with water quality programs being particularly hard hit in the FY 2003 budget request (down by $524 million).
Although the total budget for EPA enforcement-related activities shows an increase of $15 million over the fiscal year 2002 budget, from $387 million to $402 million, the increase actually masks "a serious reduction in EPA enforcement efforts," claims the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
NRDC claims that programs aimed at civil enforcement, compliance monitoring and incentives are facing a $4 million cut in the FY 2003 budget. Although the amount does not seem great, it comes almost directly out of personnel salaries.
"The combination of failing to fill current vacancies and losing existing personnel would deal a severe blow to enforcement efforts," declares a statement from NRDC. "Programs that deter polluters from breaking the law in the first place - civil enforcement, compliance monitoring and incentives - are the backbone of federal enforcement. Cutting these efforts would remove the federal backstop when states are unwilling or unable to enforce the law."
A summary of the EPA''s budget is available at www.epa.gov/ocfo/budget/budget.htm.
by Sandy Smith ([email protected])