Senators Criticize EPA 2005 Budget

Democrats and a lone Independent ripped into the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed 2005 budget priorities during the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee hearing March 10.

The administration is proposing a 7.2 percent cut to EPA spending from enacted levels, the largest spending cut for any government agency, and while GOP senators offered general support for the effort to rein in spending, even some of them took issue with a number of reductions to EPA programs.

EPA administrator Michael Leavitt defended the $7.8 billion budget request, and vowed he was taking "the next leap forward" in environmental progress by shifting from "command and control" methods to what he termed "the better way" that relies on new technologies, market incentives, a collaborative network, and a focus on results.

Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., noted that 2 years ago, President George W. Bush sought a 3 percent cut in EPA spending, last year a 6 percent cut, and this year a 7.2 percent cut from enacted levels. "This is a most disturbing trend," he asserted, "and one that I am committed to working against."

"It's a stunning defeat for the health and safety of this country," contended Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in a general comment on the entire EPA budget that seemed to reflect the sentiments of many committee Democrats.

Because of his commitment to "sound science," committee chair James Inhofe, R-Okla., criticized proposed cuts in EPA's science budget of nearly $100 million. Nevertheless, like other Republicans, he praised the budget's general direction. "On the whole, this year's budget shows a continued commitment to environmental results, not more paperwork and complex regulations."

Topping the list of specific concerns for lawmakers from both parties was the administration's proposed cut in funds available for clean water infrastructure investments, from $1.35 billion to $850 million.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, complained that even before the proposed cut, spending in this area was insufficient to address the nation's aging infrastructure. "That budget has been inadequate since I came to the Senate," he asserted. Voinovich and other senators vowed to fight to restore money for clean water infrastructure.

Democrats attacked the administration's pace of cleaning up Superfund sites, and called on Leavitt to support reinstating a tax on corporations that would help pay for Superfund sites without an identifiable responsible party.

"It's an outrage," fumed Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., as he outlined how little has been accomplished in cleaning up asbestos contamination at a Superfund site in Libby, Mont.

Leavitt declined to go along with the Superfund corporate tax request, and countered that the administration remains committed to the "polluter pays" principle. He explained that responsible parties pay for the cleanup of 70 percent of Superfund sites, and EPA wants to increase that number.

EPA's approach to reducing mercury pollution, New Source Review of aging power plants, and the agency's alleged unwillingness to respond to information requests also attracted the ire of Democratic lawmakers.

One budget item that attracted bi-partisan praise was an administration proposal to increase to $65 million a grant program for projects that reduce diesel emissions from school buses.

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