O P E N I N G   S T A T E M E N T O F

SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH

EPW BUDGET HEARING

FEBRUARY 26, 2003

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing on the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency.  I am pleased that you are holding this hearing, as I take our oversight responsibilities very seriously.

 

In addition, I would like to thank Administrator Whitman for being here today to discuss the President’s proposed budget for the EPA. I know that you have a very difficult job in trying to bring some sense of fiscal responsibility to an area like environmental protection, and I respect the enormous challenges that you have to address when working out a budget proposal.  I personally want to thank you for your willingness to serve.

 

As you know from being a Governor, the burdens placed on a budget by priorities in one area (such as homeland security and national defense) squeeze out other priorities and can leave them under-funded. Putting together a budget is a process that requires responsible prioritizing and fiscal discipline in order to avoid breaking the bank. Unfortunately, as is often the case around here, responsibility often gives way to rhetoric and the knee-jerk response to those who claim “it’s not enough” is to offer pie-in-the-sky budget numbers that they know are not feasible, let alone necessary. 

 

In 2002, this past fiscal year, we suffered a budget deficit of $317 billion.  In other words, we spent the entire $160 billion Social Security surplus and then had to go out into the private markets and borrow an additional $158 billion.

 

And according to OMB’s numbers, even though we kept discretionary spending down in FY2003 and the President’s FY2004 budget keeps discretionary spending to an increase of 4 percent, we will still suffer budget deficits of close to half a trillion dollars ($468 billion and $482 billion, respectively) in FY2003 and FY2004.

 

The 4 percent increase in spending is a good start down a fiscally responsible path.  I am pleased that President Bush forced some hard decisions to be made but still developed a budget for EPA that will allow the Agency to continue to focus on cleaning up and protecting our environment.

 

That being said, there are a few issues in this budget proposal that I would like to address today.   For example, October 30, 2002 marked the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.  The Anniversary is not only a cause for celebration, but also a cause to recommit ourselves to achieving the goals of the Act.  We have come a long way since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.  But we still have a long way to go.  For example, approximately 45 percent of U.S. waters are still not clean enough for fishing or swimming. 

 

Clean water has been a priority of mine ever since I was elected to the Ohio General Assembly in 1967 and made a commitment to stop the deterioration of Lake Erie and to wage what I call the “Second Battle of Lake Erie.”  I have continued that fight throughout my career.

 

Last year, I worked with my colleagues in this Committee and in the Congress to pass the Great Lakes Legacy Act to cleanup contaminated sediments.  While I am pleased that the President recognizes the importance of this natural resource to the nation by including $15 million in the budget for this program, this funding is well below the $54 million authorized.  I intend to send a letter to the appropriators asking them to fully fund the Great Lakes Legacy Program.

 

As a member of this Committee, I have worked hard to bring attention to the nation’s wastewater infrastructure needs.  That is why I have introduced legislation that would reauthorize funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) program.  My legislation, the Clean Water Infrastructure Financing Act (S. 170), would authorize a total of $15 billion over five years and provide improved state flexibility to run the program.

 

Unfortunately, as we on this Committee know, billions of dollars have already been spent and billions more are needed to upgrade the nation’s aging wastewater infrastructure.  I firmly believe the federal government is responsible for paying its fair share. The City of Akron, for example, has proposed to spend $377 million over 30 years to fix the City’s combined sewer overflow problems.  Yet, city officials told me last week as I toured the City’s wastewater treatment plant, that the U.S. EPA is pressuring them to do the work in half the time.

 

In addition, the Administration’s FY2004 budget proposes spending cuts for this important program.  What I would like to know from you, Administrator Whitman, is how you expect cities like Akron to spend millions of dollars for water infrastructure upgrades when the Administration plans to cut funding for programs like the Clean Water SRF program.   In the absence of sufficient federal funding, what kind of assistance can EPA give local communities trying to improve water quality by investing in infrastructure upgrades?

 

Senator Carper and I introduced legislation in the last Congress to strengthen science at the EPA by creating a Deputy Science Administrator at the Agency. This legislation was based on a 2000 National Research Council study (entitled Strengthening Science and the U.S. EPA). That report included several recommendations on how to improve the research, management and peer review practices at the Agency.  I know that Chairman Inhofe has a very serious interest in ensuring that the Agency utilizes sound science in its decision-making – an interest that I wholeheartedly share. I would like to hear what you intend to do to increase the use of sound science at the Agency, and whether or not this budget provides adequate funding for that task.

 

 

On Monday, I had the pleasure of visiting EPA’s newly created National Homeland Security Research Center in Cincinnati and meeting Dr. Paul Gilman, the Assistant Administrator of Research and Development at EPA. Since the terrorist attacks of September 2001, this Committee has worked closely with EPA to identify the vulnerabilities to our water systems and chemical plants and to find the means to protect them. I know that Senator Jeffords and Senator Corzine have both worked very hard on these issues.

 

Although the EPA was not moved into the Department of Homeland Security, it is important that the Agency be able to carry out its homeland security responsibilities and work closely with that newly created Department.  President Bush’s FY 2004 Budget request for EPA includes $123 million for Homeland Security activities.  I would like to hear what EPA intends to do with this money and how it intends to work with the newly created Department of Homeland Security.

 

Again, I would like to thank the Administrator for her attendance today, and look forward to hearing her thoughts on these issues.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

 

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