US EPA welcomes budget proposal; others are unhappy

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says President Bush’s proposed 2003 budget is good for the environment and fiscally responsible, but others - including environmentalists and those in the water treatment industry - are not happy with it.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said the proposed budget contains US$7.7 billion to support the agency’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. She said it includes more than a 100% increase in funding for brownfields, significant increases for watershed protection and a US$200 million overall increase over last year’s request.

The budget “reflects President Bush’s strong commitment to leaving America’s air cleaner, its water purer,” Whitman said.

But Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, said clean water protection programs took the biggest hit in the 2003 budget. The group said it also shifts environmental law enforcement responsibilities from the federal government to the states, which threatens effective and uniform enforcement of national environmental laws (see related story).

“Frankly, I am surprised that the administration would resurrect these unwise shifts in priorities when they were so soundly rejected by Congress during the last session,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice.

Under the proposal, water programs would receive approximately US$3.2 billion, compared to the US$3.7 billion level funded by Congress for 2002. The cut of more than US$500 million for clean water is significant, according to Earthjustice.

“The Bush administration’s proposed cuts that would reduce money available for treatment of wastewater discharges and other water pollution at a time when the need for safe water funding is growing a big step in the wrong direction,” she said.

EPA said that its grant figure is a US$15 million state enforcement

grant program. These additional grant resources will help states and tribes take on greater responsibility of the enforcement of environmental laws and regulations and will allow them to prioritise their enforcement needs.

Meanwhile the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN) — a group that wants federal funding to support infrastructure rehabilitation programs across the nation — said the budget proposal falls far short of drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs. For the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, the administration proposed the same amount as last year, US$850 million. For the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, US$1.25 billion was proposed, which is US$100 million less than fiscal year 2002, the group said in a statement.

WIN said there is a shortfall of up to US$1 trillion in the needed level of investment for repair and replacement of aging infrastructure. Local governments cannot fund all that is needed in the next five years without significant federal assistance. It is asking Congress to commit US$57 billion over the next five years for infrastructure, which still leaves the federal share at less than 20 percent of total.

The H20 coalition — which is on the opposite side of WIN of the infrastructure debate, preferring to address the problem through a combination of asset management, local responsibility and decision-making, and only limited, targeted federal government involvement — said in a statement that mammoth federal infrastructure outlays were not prudent.

“Given the shift in emphasis toward homeland security and national defence, and the magnitude of needs they present, we do not think it is realistic to expect a doubling or tripling in funding for the State Revolving Fund programmes during these economic times,” the group said.

EPA said the budget request for fiscal year 2003, which begins 1 October, provides US$200 million for the Brownfields program, which reclaims abandoned industrial sites and converts them to new uses.

EPA said that to continue to do its part to ensure the nation is prepared to respond to terrorist incidents, it is investing an additional US$124 million for homeland security. Combined with resources provided in the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation Act of 2002, this represents a two-year total of US$300 million in new resources.

Included in this figure is US$20 million to address threats to the

nation’s drinking water supply. EPA already has begun working with states and local utilities to assess this vulnerability. The additional US$20 million being requested in 2003 will augment US$88 million appropriated as part of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation Act, which together will ensure that utilities have developed a comprehensive assessment of these vulnerabilities and emergency operations plans using the most current methods and technologies.

Also included in the US$124 million request for homeland security is

US$75 million so that the Agency can research better techniques for

cleaning up buildings contaminated by biological agents, EPA said.

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