State Environmental Agencies Face
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
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
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,"
"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
"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.