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Great Lakes Article:

State Environmental Agencies Face Budget Cuts

By Cat Lazaroff
Environmental News Service
July 30, 2002

WASHINGTON, DC, - State environmental agencies around the United States are facing a second straight year of budget cuts, finds a new study by the Environmental Council of the States. Seventy-five percent of the states responding to the group's survey reported a drop in funding for programs aimed at reducing pollution and protecting clean air and water.

Of the 40 states responding to the survey by the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), 30 are looking at a funding cut in their fiscal year 2003 budget. Of the remaining 10, eight saw no increase in their budgets, while just two dates received a budget increase.

  The survey marks the second year in a row that most state environment agencies have seen their budgets cut, instead of increased, in annual funding legislation.

"States still spend over $13 billion per year on environment and natural resource protection," said R. Steven Brown, acting executive director of ECOS, the nonprofit, nonpartisan national association of the state environmental agencies and their directors.

"These last two years end along trend of budget increases dating back to at least 1986," Brown said.

Even for those state agencies that will maintain their current funding over the next fiscal year, the picture is not rosy. Even a stable budget buys less this year than last, Brown noted. And one of the states that reported a budget increase on paper will actually see funding for programs fall, as the agency must meet an unfunded, legislatively mandated cost of living increase for employees.

"Environmental agencies are not being singled out," Brown added. "Nearly all state agencies are facing similar cuts," as the nation faces a declining economy.

The cuts also come as many state environmental agencies face additional demands on their limited resources to meet new homeland security needs. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, state agencies have been tasked with helping to keep the nation's food and water supplies safe from potential additional attacks - but so far, most have not been given the resources to meet these responsibilities.

Over the past two years, states have taken about $500 million in cuts, ECOS estimates, largely in reductions to the general funds of environment agencies. Since 2000, when states spent about $13.5 billion on environment and natural resource protection, spending has dropped by about 3.7 percent.

  The ECOS study shows that almost $200 million was cut from the fiscal year 2003 environmental budgets of 30 states. The average cut was about $6.8 million per state.

Last year, 42 states saw cuts of $196 million, or an average of $6.5 million per state.

One state agency alone lost $70 million in fiscal year 2003. Because ECOS collected its information confidentially, the group does not plan to release information about individual states by name.

Most of the cuts - about 74 percent - were to the agencies' general, unallocated funds. Where states were able to cite cuts to specific programs, ECOS detailed cuts to 32 water quality programs, eight clean air programs, and seven hazardous waste programs.

Six executive programs saw their budgets cut, along with three drinking water programs and three pollution prevention programs.

No state reported cuts to enforcement programs, and some specifically said enforcement would not be cut.

The methods used to meet the budgeted cuts included hiring and promotion freezes, travel restrictions and reductions in new contracts and purchases.

In an article in the Winter 2000 issue of ECOStates, the journal of ECOS, acting executive director Brown addressed the variety of steps that environmental agencies took to deal with the fiscal year 2001 budget cuts.

  "Thirty of 42 states reported that their agency was asked to cut or reduce its budget for the current fiscal year," Brown wrote. "States used many methods to achieve these budget reductions. Some of the most common were: staff actions, travel restrictions, redirection of funds, amended or delayed contracts, and changes in business operations."

When asked how they would cope with the additional cuts expected for fiscal year 2003, "most said they haven't addressed that issue yet, but budget reduction options get more desperate when cuts occur in back to back years," Brown wrote.

"States were much more likely to list cuts in programs and raised fees (if legislatively possible) as their only option to meet reduced budgets," he added. "Water programs were mentioned often for cuts, but no program will be spared if cuts are as deep as seems likely next fiscal year."

"States have not faced cuts such as these since the very early 1990s," Brown concluded. "Now it seems likely that 'doing more with less' will return to the agendas of many ECOS members."

As of June 2002, environment agencies in 51 of the 55 U.S. states and territories were members of ECOS. Kentucky is the only state which is not a member of ECOS.

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