SENATOR JAMES M. JEFFORDS
ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE HEARING ON THE PRESIDENT=S FY 2003 BUDGET REQUEST FOR THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
FEBRUARY 13, 2002
Good morning. The purpose of today=s hearing is to examine the proposed 2003 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency. We are pleased to have the former Governor of New Jersey and able Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Todd Whitman, here today to explain to us the finer points of the EPA=s budget request.
For the record, I want to thank Administrator Whitman for all the work she and her staff have done recently to help the State of Vermont tackle some tricky budget problems. Testifying on the budget is admittedly a rather dry experience, but I hope that the Administrator enjoys herself more today than she does in meetings with the Office of Management and Budget.
Now, to the subject before us. At a time when we should be striving for the gold, the EPA's budget for next year barely makes it through the qualifiers. The proposed budget represents a 3.5% reduction in spending from last year. However, when inflation is taken into account, the cut is more like 6%, even as we are asking the Agency to take on greater homeland defense responsibilities. And while fiscal year 2006 is a long way away, and not the subject of today=s hearing, I do wonder how the Office of Management and Budget expects EPA to absorb about $1 billion in budget cuts between now and then.
But first let me start on a positive note. I am gratified that spending for the brownfields program is doubled and that a large increase goes directly to the states. On the air side, both the ozone and particulate matter programs are given increases. And speaking for myself, and all of my colleagues in the Hart Building, I am pleased that the Agency will be spending $75 million to conduct research on better ways to cleanup contaminated buildings.
Most of the savings in the budget comes from the rather naive expectation that there will be no Congressional earmarks in next year=s budget. This is a battle I will leave the Agency to fight with the appropriators. However, when earmarks are added, I will fight to make sure that sufficient core program funds continue to be appropriated to reverse cuts in clean water and climate programs and ensure continued progress in the Superfund and air programs.
While I am pleased that the Administration has substantially increased its budget request for clean water revolving funds from its request last year, and level funded drinking water revolving funds, I remain concerned that the proposed budget does not provide adequate funding for the replacement and maintenance of our nation=s aging water infrastructure. Given the importance to public health that all communities comply with the new arsenic standard in a timely manner, I am concerned that no new drinking water funds are being allocated for this purpose. Further, clean water revolving funds are cut 10% from last year=s enacted level at a time when water systems are coping with the additional costs of security. I am sure EPA is also aware that I am working with members of this Committee on a bill to boost water infrastructure funding that will be introduced shortly.
Another issue I would like to highlight is the reduction in EPA enforcement efforts. Once again, EPA is proposing a new state enforcement grant program. How is this program different from the one that was proposed and shot down by Congress last year?
It is my understanding that no cuts in existing enforcement personnel are planned, but that cuts of about 100 enforcement positions will be made through attrition and by not filling existing job openings. Just how many unfilled jobs exist in the enforcement division? And does this explain the continued lowering of performance goals for inspections and investigations?
I believe there is a public education component to virtually ever major environmental statute. I was, therefore, puzzled to learn that the EPA would like to move both its environmental education division and STAR Fellowship program to the National Science Foundation. I look forward to hearing the EPA=s views on this subject.
Finally, let me say that I am deeply skeptical of the Administration=s government-wide proposal to require each government agency to assume the costs of the Civil Service Retirement System and health care costs. As both a member of the HELP and Finance Committees, I am troubled that mandatory spending would be shifted to discretionary accounts potentially diverting these funds to purposes other than funding retirement and health care costs. Furthermore, I am concerned that in future years, this change in accounting rules would penalize the operating budgets of programs with older employees.
Again thank you for being here today Administrator Whitman, and I look forward to your testimony.