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Bush seeks cuts in clean water initiatives

PRESIDENT BUSH, who has been criticized by green groups for rolling back some environmental programs during the past year, asked Congress to approve an EPA budget that is $300 million less than what lawmakers set for fiscal 2002. Fiscal 2003 begins on Oct. 1. The biggest cut would come in EPA spending on clean water initiatives, dropping by $524 million to $3.215 billion. Many of those programs were inserted by lawmakers to benefit their districts during previous budgets and do not reflect the agency’s actual priorities, EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman said at a press conference. Spending on drinking water-related projects would remain at $850 million, according to the White House budget request. The budget proposal would help make the nation’s “air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected,” Whitman said in a statement.



Whitman pledged no cuts in EPA enforcement activities, which have been closely watched by both industry and green groups. The White House is now reviewing a Clean Air Act provision that requires aging coal-fired utilities to install costly pollution equipment when a plant undergoes extensive renovation or expansion. “We are not transferring or removing anyone from our office of enforcement,” Whitman said. “We have not backed off any enforcement efforts at all.” Green groups interpreted the budget document differently. EPA in its budget request indicated it will cut the equivalent of about 112 full-time employees from its budgeted hours for enforcement activities. “EPA made serious cuts in its enforcement capabilities,” said Wesley Warren, a senior fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council.


The Bush budget proposal would also have the EPA spend $598 million on clean air programs in 2003, up $4.6 million from 2002. In its budget plan, the White House reiterated that it is working on such an approach to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury from electric power generators. Whitman said the EPA will submit recommendations to the White House “in the next few weeks or the next month.” The program would be phased in “over a reasonable period of time,” while providing regulatory certainty to U.S. utilities, EPA said in its budget documents. The administration prefers a market-based cap-and-trade system rather than mandatory enforcement actions to cut air pollution. That approach means a battle with Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, the head of the Senate Environment Committee, who wants stricter legislation to reduce pollutants. Jeffords, a Republican-turned-Independent, plans to submit a bill to the full Senate for debate this month. Jeffords on Monday pledged a fight to restore EPA’s budget to prior levels. “Now is the time to increase our investment in the environment not decrease it,” he said. The NRDC’s Warren called the cuts “a serious loss to the environment.”


The EPA budget proposal would increase spending on its Superfund cleanup program by $4 million to $1.293 billion, and allocate an additional $123 million to Brownfields cleanup of old and abandoned industrial sites. The Superfund cleans up contaminated sites and removes toxic substances. EPA wants to bring its site cleanup total to 884 in 2003, out of the target list of 1,479 sites. The budget blueprint will be fleshed out in April with specific details for all federal spending programs. After that, Congress will spend months debating and rewriting budgets for all federal agencies for fiscal 2003, which begins on Oct

1. Other highlights of EPA’s budget included: A previously announced $20 million new watershed initiative to fund cleanup of 20 watersheds to reduce pollution. Giving more enforcement authority to states through a new $15 million state enforcement grant. $75 million in research funding for technology to clean up buildings affected by bioterror attacks.

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