Bush proposes to cut EPA budget but takes spending on Land and Water Conservation Fund to highest ever level

In his proposed budget for 2002, President George W. Bush raised the Environmental Protection Agency's budget against expectation, announced the largest ever funding level for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and pledged $4.9 billion to meet the National Park Systems' backlog of maintenance and improvements.

Delivering his budget proposal to Congress on 27 February, George W. Bush made much of his main pledges to pay off $2 trillion of national debt over ten years and restore $1.6 trillion in taxes, but also cited “a cleaner environment” as an important need. Bush vowed to cut the budget of both of the two departments which deal principally with the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), by a proposed 6.8%, and the Department of the Interior (DOI), by 4%. The proposed budget which covers the period of November 2001 to October 2002, could take months to finalise, however.

Principal pledges affecting the environment include:

  • funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million in 2002, the highest LWCF budget request in history;
  • providing additional resources and management reform support to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog in national parks;
  • initiates planning and studies on potential oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska in 2004 (see related story this week and related story);
  • providing more than $1 billion in grants for States and Tribes to administer environmental programmes, the highest level in the EPA’s history;
  • provides wastewater grants to States at a level $500 million more than requested by the previous Administration for 2001, and directing a portion of those grants to newly authorised sewer overflow control grants;
  • accelerate the cleanup of toxic brownfields.

All the measures had been widely expected, and were announced in the Republican’s pre-election manifesto.

“Continued significant improvement in environmental quality can best be achieved by fostering local stewardship of our resources and encouraging innovative methods of pollution control,” Bush’s statement said. “The budget reflects these priorities by providing historic levels of funding for conservation, especially in partnership with State and local officials, and providing more flexibility for State and local governments to craft solutions to control pollution in their own communities.” Examples of this approach are proposals for a 50% capital gains tax exclusion to private landowners who voluntarily sell their land or water for conservation purposes and a permanent extension of favourable tax treatment of the costs of cleaning up contamination at brownfield sites.

Bush’s administration has also announced its intention to reduce funding by central government, which it says “can often have beneficial effects on public health and the environment”. A first example of this is a proposal to make building in frequently flooded areas ineligible for subsidised Federal flood insurance which “will improve the protection and aesthetics of riparian areas”.

Bush’s proposed budget for the EPA for 2002 is $7.3 billion, which represents a $499 million reduction the 2001, but is $56 million above the previous Administration’s requested 2001 budget. The Government point outs that all spending cuts would be “almost entirely due to the elimination of unrequested earmarks…Government-wide” and that the Operating Program, the core of the EPA’s regulatory, research, and enforcement activities, would be funded at $3.7 billion, representing the second highest level in EPA history.

Other monies allocated include $1.3 billion for wastewater grants to States, $500 million more than requested by the previous Administration for 2001 and the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund would receive $2 billion for the newly-authorised sewer overflow control grants.

An emphasis will also be placed on “innovative approaches to environmental protection, such as market-based incentives”. Bush proposes to seek higher levels of co-operation among stakeholders to cut the enforcement of environmental laws through delegated State programmes, estimated at more than 80%. An alternative way to supplement State enforcement efforts would be to increase State enforcement grants. In addition, Bush “will place an emphasis on making better and more appropriate use of information and analysis”, as there is currently a “lack of performance information to hold programmes accountable”. Bush also aims to make data collection and management more efficient and more accurate, reduce paperwork for regulated entities, and standardise business practices, as currently, Federal environmental data are in separate, single-media systems (air, water, solid and hazardous waste). Grant funding of $25 million will help States better integrate their environmental information systems, the proposed budget says.

New EPA Administrator Christie Whitman praised the EPA’s new budget, calling it “responsible”, and said it would “leave more money in the pockets of hard-working Americans and stimulate the economy”.

Bush’s proposal to fund the Interior Department’s Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million, would be “the highest LWCF budget request in history, reflecting the Administration’s commitment to land conservation efforts”, and represents a $356 million increase on the 2001 budget. Principally supported through receipts from oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, the LWCF funds Federal, State, and local conservation, natural resource protection and outdoor recreation.

Bush says that over time the State and local component has been forgotten, which will now be revitalised and an extra $50 million will provide matching grants for States to establish their own Landowner Incentive Programs, which assist private landowners in enhancing habitat for imperiled species while continuing to engage in traditional land management practices.

Another Interior Department priority will be to reduce the National Park Service (NPS) deferred maintenance backlog. Bush says that the conditions in many national parks have deteriorated in recent years, largely because the expansion in the number of national park units has exceeded both the NPS’s ability to manage these facilities as well as the available funding.

The Bush Administration aims to tackle the problem through management reform, accelerating efforts to complete objective assessments of facility conditions, institute maintenance management systems, and identifying priorities “in a clear and accountable manner”. Bush aims to establish a set of performance measures that can track the quality of facility maintenance performed, “instead of just relying on the quantity of funding provided”. The Bush budget focuses on funding an estimated $2.2 billion in non-transport related parts of the deferred maintenance backlog in non-road projects. In addition, Bush proposes to grant an extra $20 million to NPS operations to accelerate biological resource inventories, control non-native species, and preserve endangered and threatened species habitat on park lands.

“President Bush’s budget proposal makes good on his campaign promises to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, revitalise contaminated industrial sites and provide $4.9 billion for national park maintenance over the next five years,” commented Lisa Wade Raasch of NGO the League of Conservation Voters. “However, projected cuts in the EPA and Interior Department budgets do not reflect the priorities of a majority of Americans who value strongly enforced public health safeguards and public lands protections. Bush’s budget proposal could leave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Energy and Interior Departments facing budget cuts of 5% to 7%.”

“If Bush truly wanted to protect the environment and save money, he could cut below cost timber sales, subsidies to the oil industry and pork barrel Army Corps of Engineers projects,” commented the executive director of the environmental NGO Sierra Club Carl Pope.

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