EPA Budget Protects Some, Ignores Others

Sunday, April 15, 2001

By United Press International

Under President Bush's proposal, federal agencies charged with varying degrees of environmental oversight — the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the departments of Interior and Agriculture — face funding cuts in the next fiscal year.

Dana Wolfe of the Sierra Club says the budget proposal reflects the administration's shift from conservation to efforts to extract gas, oil and minerals in federally protected areas such as national parks and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The EPA's budget would be reduced $500 million, down from $7.8 billion this year to $7.3 billion in 2002, with $25 million diverted to states for environmental enforcement.

"Some states tend to do well with this, and others don't, so it's more a function of geography," Wolfe said.

Clean water programs would receive $3.2 million, down from $3.7 million this fiscal year. Clean air programs also took a hit, with Bush seeking $437 million, $19.5 million less than the current year. Bush's proposal would also cut programs to reduce air toxics risks by $3 million, to $109.2 million; and programs to reduce acid rain by nearly $3 million, to $18.9 million.

The proposed cuts come as Bush already faces fire from congressional Democrats and some in the international community for deciding not to mandate carbon dioxide limits on power plant emissions, one of the gases targeted by the Kyoto Protocol for Climate Change. Bush said the cost would be too high at a time when the economy appears in a downturn.

The Interior Department would receive $12.7 billion under the 2002 proposal, down from $13 billion in 2001.

Some key environmental agencies, however, will get more.

The National Park Service would get a boost, with $2.49 billion proposed, $334 million higher than 2001. Bush also fulfills a campaign pledge with $440 million slated to eliminate the agency's $4.9 billion maintenance backlog over five years.

Another increase is directed toward the politically sticky nuclear power-plant waste question. A federal program charged with making a final environmental determination on a nuclear storage facility in Yucca Mountain, Nev., receives $445 million in the Bush plan, up from $390 million this year.

An administration official said the boost reflects expectations from the president that the nuclear waste storage problem will be resolved this year. Site characterization programs receive a $42 million increase, with the idea that a final environmental impact statement will be completed this year.

Construction spending for the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that carries out the nation's civil engineering tasks, would be curtailed in a loss of 14 percent over the current year, leaving no money for new projects. The corps would receive $3.9 billion, a decrease from $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2001. But the corps noted that the fiscal year 2000 appropriation of only $4.1 billion is seen as a more typical spending level. Spending in the next year will be directed toward $40 billion in program backlogs, including $6 billion for Mississippi flood control efforts and $8 billion for projects stalled in the design phase.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture would receive $95 billion in 2002, down from $103.7 billion in 2001. A popular agriculture conservation program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, which gives farmers incentives to preserve ecologically sensitive areas on their land, would effectively be abolished, losing all $162 million provided this year.

The Forest Service, which falls under the purview of the USDA, would face a $491 million decrease. Also tucked into the budget request in two places are provisions that assume federal revenue from oil sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The assumption of ANWR receipts is bound to stir controversy on the Hill, where Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has pledged a filibuster if any open-ANWR measures survive intact. In public statements, Bush has signaled a realization that he may not have the votes in Congress for ANWR drilling.

Andrew Englander, legislative associate for Friends of the Earth, said the budget provides no real good news for natural resource conservation, but does show some encouraging signs. The Bush administration proposal would cut funding to the The Export-Import Bank by $223 million, Englander said. The bank provides investment capital for gas and oil exploration and extraction projects overseas.

A silver lining for environmental lobbies could also found in the Interior request, where Bush fulfilled his campaign promise to back full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, at $900 million. That's $356 million more than the current year. Administration officials make no apologies for what they say is a shift in strategy and a search for balance — but not a backing away from a commitment to the environment.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Gale Norton told the Center for Private Conservation that "the era of mandates from Washington is giving way in the Bush administration to common sense solutions." "I know from experience that the best natural resource planning is done at the local level and involves private landowners who know and love their land," Norton said. "When they're brought into the process early, they can feel invested in solutions and how their decisions are implemented."

Norton stressed the difference between what she called the litigious system employed by the Clinton administration versus the cooperative approach preferred by Bush. She noted that two new programs in the FY 2002 budget will encourage landowners to become involved in policy-making earlier in the process and will also provide incentives compliance with conservation objectives.

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who is seen in some quarters as having been weakened by the administration's renunciation of the Kyoto treaty, wrote in USA Today Friday that the administration is committed to "inaugurating a new era of environmental partnership building." She wrote that the budget proposes sending "a record $1 billion back to the states to improve their environmental performance," and vowed to "unleash a new era of environmental protection."