At a news conference today, Earthjustice highlighted that clean water protection programs took the biggest hit in the EPA's proposed FY 2003 budget. Released Monday by President Bush, the 2003 budget proposal also shifts environmental law enforcement responsibilities from the federal government to the states. Such an effort threatens effective and uniform enforcement of national environmental laws, according to Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice.
"Cutting clean water funding and shifting more enforcement responsibilities to the states were among the most controversial aspects of President Bush's environmental budget last year, and they were rebuked by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress," said Mulhern. "Frankly, I am surprised that the administration would resurrect these unwise shifts in priorities when they were so soundly rejected by Congress during the last session."
The total EPA budget request of $7.7 billion for FY 2003 is less than the $8 billion enacted by Congress in 2002 for the environmental agency, but more than the administration's 2002 request of $7.3 billion. However, under the proposed 2003 budget, water programs would receive approximately $3.2 billion, compared to the $3.7 billion level funded by Congress for 2002. The cut of more than $500 million for clean water is significant, according to Earthjustice.
"Protection of clean water consistently ranks among Americans' top concern for their families' health as well as for the well-being of the natural environment," said Mulhern. "The Bush administration's proposed cuts that would reduce money available for treatment of wastewater discharges and other water pollution at a time when the need for safe water funding is growing is a big step in the wrong direction. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. While the law has cleaned up many of our worst pollution problems, 40 percent of the nation's waters are still not safe for fishing, swimming and other uses. The administration should be increasing – not decreasing – funding for cleaner water."
The EPA's budget proposal also includes $15 million for an enforcement grant program for the states. Last year, Congress rejected shifting $25 million from federal enforcement efforts to create a similar, unauthorized enforcement grant program for states.
"This year the administration is not cutting the overall funding levels for EPA's enforcement program to give money to individual states – which is good – but it is clear that the effort to shift more responsibility to the states is still underway. This is a dangerous trend that threatens clean air, clean water, and our communities," said Mulhern. "The proposition that states do as good of a job at enforcing national environmental laws as the EPA is questionable at best. There are no performance measures for states to be held accountable for enforcement under this proposed new program."