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Environmental Legislation: In Depth: Analysis


The Bush Administration's Slash & Burn Environmental Budget

The Bush administration's 2003 budget uses homeland security as an excuse to slash programs it has opposed since it took office. It would be a net loss for the environment, and for reasons that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism.

The Bush FY 2003 budget would be a net loss for the environment, but the reasons have nothing to do with fighting terrorism. The budget has plenty of room to ensure that we protect our nation's natural resources and our public health. Instead, the administration is using homeland security as an excuse to slash programs that it has opposed since it took office. And it has written this year's budget in a way to hide this intention from the casual reader.

Serious Cuts to Environmental Protection: The proposed budget for FY 2003 would slash overall discretionary spending for environmental and natural resources agencies $1 billion, or 3.4 percent, from FY 2002 -- a drop from $29.3 billion to $28.3 billion. Specific cuts include nearly $300 million from the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly $500 million from the Army Corps of Engineers, nearly $300 million from the U.S. Forest Service, and about $100 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In addition to this $1 billion reduction, the budget would cut $52 million from the Department of Energy energy efficiency research and development and more than $500 million from Department of Transportation air pollution reduction programs. According to the administration's own figures, inflation would seriously erode the purchasing power of the environmental pot of money, in effect reducing its value by another $14 billion over the next five years, or another 8.8 percent.

Secret Plans and Broken Promises: While seriously undercutting investment in our environmental future, the Bush budget hides its intent behind claims of new or expanded initiatives. However, an honest accounting of the books would reveal that the administration's assertions repeatedly fall short of its claims. The energy policy that the administration has advocated, which calls for greater reliance on fossil fuels, would be less effective in ensuring our national security than cleaner, domestic sources of energy from renewable resources and energy efficiency. The administration's proposed cuts to EPA's enforcement program could eviscerate some of the most important air and water statutes while leaving them on the books. And, finally, this budget mirrors last year's by breaking the few environmental campaign pledges George W. Bush made in his presidential run. As a candidate, Bush promised to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but he has filled it up in large part by merely renaming other programs to make them seem to be a part of the fund. He also promised to eliminate the $4.9 billion national parks system maintenance and construction backlog in five years, but has proposed only trivial increases in funding. Lastly, he pledged $100 million a year for the bipartisan Tropical Forest Conservation Act, but his budget would provide only $50 million for fiscal year 2003.

A summary of some of the most serious budget cuts follows.


Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency budget proposed for fiscal year 2003 is $7.7 billion, a drop from $8 billion in FY 2002 in regular appropriations and another $176 million in supplemental funding from the Emergency Response Fund (ERF). The major funding cuts in the EPA's programs are due to a reduction in the overall amount of money for the agency and the discontinuation of supplemental ERF funding. Altogether, EPA's homeland security costs would total $124 million in FY 2003, with $83 million coming from the ongoing Superfund program, and the remainder coming out of the agency's operating budget. Specific reductions in agency activities from FY 2002 include cuts in water quality programs (-$524 million), scientific work (-$8 million) and core enforcement efforts (-$4 million).

Cuts to Water Quality Programs: The administration proposes to eliminate $344 million in special projects added by Congress to the budget signed into law last year by President Bush, but neglects to reallocate these funds to programs that would significantly improve water quality. As a result, funding for high priority programs would be below last year's level and other initiatives would receive no new money or have to get more money from other areas.

  • The Bush budget proposes to cut by 10 percent the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), which provides loans to modernize and upgrade aging sewer and water treatment systems, reducing it $138 million from its FY 2002 level of $1.35 billion.
  • Funding for the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund would be maintained at $850 million, but a new $27 million program to help communities comply with the new arsenic standard would be carved out of the total instead of being added as new funding.
  • The Bush administration proposes only $10 million for beach grants to help states improve their water quality monitoring and public notification programs, the same amount that Congress provided last year. Two years ago, Congress unanimously passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, authorizing $30 million a year in federal grants to help coastal states protect their beaches.
  • The Bush budget proposes cutting the National Estuaries Program by $5.3 million, dropping it to $19.2 million -- substantially less than the $35 million Congress unanimously authorized and less than $1 million for each of the 28 recognized "nationally significant" estuaries.
  • The EPA recently announced a $20 million watershed initiative. This proposal is a misguided attempt to undermine an existing program. It would divert money from the Clean Water Act's watershed program (the total maximum daily load program) to some undefined program that would be completely voluntary and supported by local regulated entities.

Transfers Enforcement to States: Although the total budget for EPA enforcement-related activities would increase slightly (from $387 million to $402 million), this increase masks a serious reduction in EPA enforcement efforts. Programs that deter polluters from breaking the law in the first place -- civil enforcement, compliance monitoring and incentives -- are the backbone of federal enforcement. Cutting these efforts would remove the federal backstop when states are unwilling or unable to enforce the law. The Bush budget would cut these key programs from $165 million to $161 million. Although this reduction may appear small, it cuts deeply into the enforcement workforce since it would come almost directly out of personnel salaries. The combination of failing to fill current vacancies and losing existing personnel would deal a severe blow to enforcement efforts. Compared to the FY 2001 level, the agency stands to lose as many as 200 staff positions in areas other than the Superfund program, approximately the same number the administration's proposed FY 2002 budget would have cut. At the same time, the administration proposes $15 million for a new, but vague, state grant program to begin to shift enforcement responsibility to the states.


Department of the Interior

The Bush budget would provide essentially level funding for the Interior Department at a total of $10.6 billion. However, a close look at how funds are being distributed within the agency reveals several disturbing trends. The first is the ongoing shift from natural resource conservation and restoration to resource exploitation and extraction. The other is the agency's lack of meaningful environmental achievements even where it makes positive efforts. This is due to the agency's failure to honestly live up to its promises or its inability to invest in one set of priorities without slashing another set to pay for it.

The most significant shortfalls in the Interior budget would occur in two major trust funds administered for special conservation purposes -- the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and the newly created trust under the Land Conservation, Preservation and Infrastructure Improvement Program (LCPIIP). Other problem areas include the national wildlife refuge system and the national parks.

Plays Shell Game with LWCF Funding: During the presidential campaign, President Bush promised to fully fund the LWCF, which provides money to buy development rights or acreage in environmentally sensitive areas. Full funding would mean $900 million a year, to be allocated equally between the federal government and the states. Although the administration's budget purports to fully fund the LWCF at $911 million, it provides only $486 million for the purposes for which the LWCF was established. The balance of the funding would come from renaming other existing activities as part of the LWCF, rendering Bush's campaign pledge nonsense at best. The bottom line is that the budget's claim to "fully fund" the LWCF has not resulted in a real increase in land conservation through acquisition and easements. What is worse is that the budget proposal for FY 2003 actually would include a $93 million reduction for the federal share of LWCF land acquisition -- the most important type of spending for high priority environmental projects.

Breaks the Deal on the Conservation Trust Fund: Two years ago, Congress, on a broad bipartisan basis, created a new conservation trust fund under LCPIIP. This historic agreement provided $12 billion over six years for a variety of purposes -- including habitat and species protection, urban and historic preservation, maintenance of public lands, and even LWCF -- and protected this funding from being diverted to other government programs. The new Bush budget, however, would undercut this agreement by spending $250 million less than the amount allotted by Congress for fiscal year 2003, diverting this money to other purposes. This reduction would kill or reduce funding for initiatives devoted to several vital activities, including building urban parks, helping states protect wildlife, and preserving forests and wetlands.

Fails to Maintain Commitment on Maintenance: During the 2000 campaign, Bush pledged to eliminate the estimated $4.9 billion backlog of maintenance and resource protection needs in our national parks over the next five years. Reducing this backlog would mean spending, on average, nearly $1 billion a year above the approximately $662 million a year that is already being spent. Once again, the Bush administration completely fails to come to grips with this issue by proposing to increase funding for park maintenance by only $3 million.

Shortchanges the Everglades: Even the administration's flagship environmental restoration effort in the Everglades would feel the budget ax if Congress adopts the Bush budget. Funding for the most critical restoration project for Everglades National Park, the Modified Water Deliveries Project, would be cut in half. This project is intended to restore water flows through the heart of the Everglades and already has experienced long delays. The research budget for Everglades National Park also would be completely zeroed out, which would make it much more difficult for the park's staff to ensure that it is using the best available science on the restoration effort, a longstanding concern.

Cuts Funding for Water Programs at U.S. Geological Survey: The Bush budget would slash funding for USGS by about $47 million, including a $5 million cut in the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) and elimination of the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program (-$14 million). NAWQA does essential water quality monitoring and research to assess the state of the nation's waters and their primary pollution threats. The Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, meanwhile, monitors toxic substances in ground and surface water.

Promotes Energy Development at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM): The BLM budget includes $10.2 million to expand energy and related activities to make the agency "more responsive" to energy development. Chief among these activities would be promoting oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It is difficult to see how the agency could be "more responsive," given its attempts to issue oil and gas leases in wilderness study areas in Wyoming and Colorado. Indeed, BLM's Washington office has instructed the Utah BLM to "understand" that its top priority should be to respond to requests for leases and permit applications. The proposed Bush budget also contains $650,000 for coal leasing, focusing on streamlining policies that would complete more lease sales per year.

Threatens to Cut the Public out of Land Use Plans: The BLM budget includes $14 million to accelerate completion of land use plans. However, this acceleration could be inconsistent with the department's professed interest in taking a more collaborative approach. Undoubtedly the BLM needs to update its planning base, since it completed a majority of its plans (122 out of 162) before 1989. Public involvement takes time, however, and accelerating these plans could effectively cut the public out of the process. And providing the fossil fuel industry expedited access to natural resources certainly would threaten environmentally sensitive areas such as the Naval Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, the Redrock Wilderness in Utah, and the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Colorado.


Department Of Energy

Given the president's call for congressional action on energy legislation, one would expect a budget for the Department of Energy that emphasized the development of national sources of energy for civilian uses, especially those that are clean, affordable and domestic. However, the budget for the Department of Energy shows a sharp and somewhat surprising return to the defense and nuclear orientation that has characterized it for much of its existence. The administration proposes boosting the department's budget $582 million, from $21.3 billion to $21.9 billion. However, the jump can be explained almost completely by increases in the nuclear weapons programs (+$433 million) and the nuclear waste disposal program at Yucca Mountain (+$150 million). Many energy efficiency programs would be cut.

Needing to be More Effective at Being Efficient: Investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy should be at the center of any plan to meet our energy needs. Energy efficiency reduces energy demand without sacrifice. It saves businesses and consumers billions of dollars. And it cuts millions of tons of pollution -- both conventional air pollution and carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. Yet, with the notable exception of a proposed increase for home weatherization programs, the Bush administration proposes to cut most energy efficiency accounts in the Department of Energy budget. Overall federal funding for research and development would be reduced $52 million, or 8 percent, from $640 million in FY 2002 to $588 million in FY 2003.

One of the most visible changes to the administration's budget for energy efficiencies the replacement of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) program with a new "Freedom Car" program. Both programs lack any requirement for automakers to put advanced technology vehicles on the road. However, in addition to the change in name, the administration has abandoned the one specific goal of the PNGV: producing production prototypes for 80 mile per gallon passenger sedans. Instead, the Freedom Car program focuses on fuel cell vehicle technology. While this technology has great promise in the long run, the program will do nothing to raise the efficiency of the 150 million passenger vehicles Americans will purchase over the next decade. Moreover, despite proclaiming the importance of reducing oil consumption from passenger vehicles, the administration proposes to cut DOE's budget for transportation sector technology research and development $34 million dollars.

Supports Renewable Energy Programs: A responsible energy plan for the nation would bolster efforts to develop solar, wind and biomass energy technologies. Like energy efficiency, these renewable energy technologies meet energy needs with less pollution than fossil fuel combustion. Such programs also return good value. Wind turbines, for example, now are competitive with fossil fuel sources, thanks to cost reductions made through DOE's research and development funding, and to modest tax credits for renewable energy sources. Although the administration's proposed investments in federal renewable energy research and development are modest, they are positive -- rising from $386 million in FY 2002 to $408 million in FY 2003.

Holding Renewables Funding Hostage to Drilling in the Arctic Refuge: Like last year, the Bush budget proposes again to spend the federal share of bonus bids received for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on renewable energy, holding this badly needed funding hostage to reckless energy development.

Cuts Environmental Cleanup at Federal Facilities: Several DOE sites are slated for significant cuts in their cleanup budgets, including the Hanford Reservation in Washington, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. In what DOE suggests is an effort to speed up the cleanup, the department is offering $800 million for sites yet to be named through the "Expedited Cleanup Account." This $800 million roughly corresponds to the amount DOE is cutting from the cleanup budgets of these respective sites. According to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, a site "that agrees to participate in the new expedited cleanup plan will receive more resources in the near term than in previous years." Essentially, DOE is offering to keep level or increase the funding of those sites that agree to "move to new cleanup agreements this year." Ultimately, the plan would encourage the facilities to offer new agreements for more lax cleanup standards -- and push states and local communities to go along with the scheme so that stable funding can continue. Instead of improving the program by aggressively addressing the worst risks first (such as buried transuranic waste around the nuclear weapons complex or the leaking high level waste tanks at Hanford), DOE is proposing a program that, if implemented, would rely on expedient, short-term approaches; and encourage regulators and communities to agree to less stringent environmental standards to ensure continued funding.

Increases Money for Wasteful Nuclear Weapons Programs: The Bush budget would continue funding for the construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a 192-beam laser facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The NIF, however, will not achieve its goal of achieving thermonuclear ignition in the laboratory. It is billions of dollars over-budget and years behind schedule, and it has never been subjected to an independent, unbiased review. NIF construction should be terminated and the program restricted to a prototype demonstration of the performance of the first eight beams.


Department of Transportation

The Bush budget would boost overall discretionary funding for the Department of Transportation from $16.6 billion in FY 2002 to $19.8 billion in FY 2003. Despite this increase, many important environmental programs in the DOT budget would take significant hits, especially those supporting alternative transportation and reducing air pollution.

The Bush budget proposal reduces the baseline for obligation limits (i.e., money states can commit to projects in the new fiscal year) on core highway programs of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), funding is automatically adjusted based on federal gas tax receipts in the Highway Trust Fund through the Revenue Aligned Budget Authority (RABA). RABA spurred large increases in highway funding in the last three fiscal years. In 2003, however, the Bush budget would cut RABA $4.4 billion to $23.2 billion, a 16 percent reduction from the law's established level of $27.5 billion. Measured against the current spending level of $31.8 billion, this adjustment represents an overall 27 percent reduction.

However, the Highway Trust Fund is not the only program affected by this adjustment. Individual program categories, such as the set-aside programs within the Surface Transportation Program (STP) and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), could be squeezed further as states absorb reduced obligation limits. The administration proposes reducing CMAQ specifically by nearly 30 percent, or $501 million. These reductions could threaten our quality of life, since the Transportation Enhancements program within STP, along with CMAQ, have helped finance projects that increase our transportation choices, including bike paths, walkways, and main street restorations.

As required by TEA-21, the administration proposes a 5 percent increase in the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) budget. Part of this additional $7.2 billion would be devoted to a more than 6 percent increase in the New Starts Program. As riders flock to transit across the country, they are creating success stories in the least likely of places, such as Dallas, Denver and Salt Lake City. New Starts has helped to finance the construction of popular new light rail lines in these and other cities, but the administration simply follows the TEA-21 law and its established level for this program, requesting funding of $1.214 billion. In TEA-21, there is additional authority -- $430 million in FY 2003 -- to increase investment for new rail starts, but the administration chose not to increase funding commitments above the guaranteed level. Unfortunately, we are failing behind to meet the tremendous demand for rail investment funds. In FY 2002 alone, FTA recommended or highly recommended New Starts projects with a total price tag of nearly $15 billion. The federal government needs to do a better job helping jurisdictions that are trying to satisfy booming transit demand.

Funding for Amtrak would remain at its 2002 level -- $521 million. While this is technically not a cut in funding, it is about half of what the troubled rail company asked for and does not go far enough to meet national rail needs in America.

One proposed budget item of potential concern to environmentalists is $6 million for "environmental streamlining activities." In theory, more rapid delivery of needed transportation projects -- such as new transit -- is an excellent idea. However, for some in the road construction industry, "streamlining" is a code word for the weakening of effective project evaluation processes such as those required by the National Environmental Policy Act.


U.S. Treasury

Breaks Bush Campaign Promise on Funding Tropical Forest Protection: With this proposed budget, President Bush backs off another campaign pledge on the environment. In August 2000, Bush promised to provide a minimum of $100 million per year for the Tropical Forest Conservation Act (funded through the Treasury Department), an innovative program to protect the world's endangered tropical forests through debt-for-nature swaps. This program allows poor countries to restructure their debt in exchange for protecting endangered tropical rainforests. In the new federal budget, Bush requested only $50 million for the program, up from a mere $5 million in FY 2002.




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