Bush Cuts EPA Budget by 6% and Seeks to Cut Water Programs

U.S. President George W. Bush asked Congress to cut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget for fiscal 2006 by 5.6% to $7.57 billion by paring water-related programs.

This is the second year in a row the Bush administration has sought to cut the EPA budget. Last year, it requested $7.76 billion, or a cut of 7% from fiscal 2004. Congress restored the fiscal 2005 budget to $8.02 billion.

``Unfortunately, it's kind of like Groundhog Day. It's more of the same of what we've seen in the past,'' said Wesley Warren, deputy director for advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington-based environmental group.

Bush cut $361 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a 33% decrease from fiscal 2005. The fund provides communities with low-interest loans to fix and update local water infrastructure. The federal government pays into the fund annually, and states match the contribution with the expectation that the fund, which now has $52 billion, will be self-sufficient, paying out $3.4 billion to states annually.

``The administration has arbitrarily selected a target for the fund to revolve at which doesn't necessarily mean that at this point they are self sufficient -- it means we have large and growing gap between our water infrastructure needs and our water investments,'' Warren said.

Over the last three years, Bush has cut the federal government's contribution from $1.34 billion in 2004 to an estimated $730 million in 2006, a 46% decline.

Also cut was water infrastructure funding, a move Bush tried last year only to see Congress restore most of the money. The program provides states with funds to expand water delivery, septic and protection systems. Bush requested $69 million for the program, and Congress appropriated $408 million in fiscal 2005, a cut of $339 million. Democrats said they again would seek to restore the infrastructure funding.

The Bush administration repeated its fiscal 2005 request of $210 million for its Brownfields program -- which cleans up less severe sites that have been polluted by industry. Congress appropriated $163 million last year for the program.

``The Brownfields program is a top environmental priority for the administration,'' said Jim Gulliford, a regional EPA administrator, announcing the increase on Feb. 4 in St. Louis, Missouri. ``In the past four years, more than 20,000 jobs have been created in conjunction with the Brownfields grant program, representing a doubling of jobs from the previous seven years.''

The administration asked Congress to increase the budget for EPA's Superfund program, which handles the nation's most polluted areas, by $32 million to $1.28 billion. The administration requested $1.4 billion for the program last year, and Congress appropriated $1.25 billion.

A program to clean up pollution from leaking underground storage tanks would receive $73 million under the Bush budget, up 6% or $4 million from 2005. One of the disputes that has stalled the president's energy bill in Congress is a fight between Democrats and Republicans over liability for leaks of the fuel additive MTBE, made by companies including Lyondell Chemical Co., Valero Energy Corp. and Huntsman Co. LLC.

The Bush administration increased environment homeland security budget by 73% to $185 million. The plan would create a $44 million water sentinel program to protect the nation's 9,000 drinking water systems. The administration asked for $19 million to detect contamination of buildings, equipment and the environment in the event of a chemical, biological or radiological attack.

For the second year in a row the Bush administration attempted to increase funds to clean up the Great Lakes. Last year, Bush requested $45 million and received $22 million from Congress. This year Bush has requested $50 million.


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