Welcome Governor Leavitt. I am pleased to have you testify before the committee today on President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2005 budget proposal for the Environmental Protection Agency.
I expect that each Senator on the committee will wish to make an opening statement and will have several questions for the Administrator. Therefore, I am asking that opening statements be kept short – under 5 minutes.
I would like to touch on a few issues of importance to me and will get into more detail during the questioning round.
As this is the first hearing this committee has seen Governor Leavitt since his confirmation, I want to publicly thank him for making Tar Creek a top priority for EPA. When he joined me in Oklahoma last December, he became the first Cabinet level official to tour Tar Creek and see what we are dealing with there. I can tell you for a fact that we are on the road to cleaning this site up. We have removed the obstacles that have stalled clean-up of this site for 20 years and for the first time we have real cooperation within the Federal Government -- and that means real progress. This is no small undertaking and much of the credit goes to Mike Leavitt. He and Richard Greene - his Region 6 Administrator - are keeping their commitment they made to me to get this site cleaned up and I want to formally thank you, Governor Leavitt, and Richard Greene for your time and efforts.
As members of this Committee know, I am a strong proponent of sound science. As a result, I am concerned that the President’s budget contains a significant cut in the overall science budget for EPA. Overall the budget cuts nearly $100 million from EPA’s science programs. I am very concerned that this significant cut will hurt our future efforts to ensure all EPA programs are based on defensible science.
Good data and information are key to successful environmental programs and ensuring limited resources are properly invested. To this end EPA doubled funding for water quality monitoring. I commend this increase because as EPA noted in its Draft Report on the Environment, more water data is needed.
On the whole, this year’s budget shows a continued commitment to environmental results not more paperwork and complex regulations. The budget contains a new competitive grant program for state projects that develop performance measures for environmental and health effects. Governor Leavitt, members of your staff were in Oklahoma just last week looking at our Clean Water revolving loan program which, along with a few other states, is far ahead of most states in establishing performance measures. I am pleased to see EPA encouraging better accountability in environmental programs at every level of government.
On the issue of accountability, this Committee recently held an oversight hearing on EPA’s grant programs. The President’s budget requests millions in new EPA grants to states and local governments for programs such as water quality protection, brownfields clean up, and underground storage tanks. Each year the EPA awards half of it’s budget each year in grants amounting to over $4 billion each year. Much of this funding goes to local governments to implement necessary environmental programs such as air quality monitoring and clean water protection. However, last week, this Committee heard from the EPA Inspector General and the General Accounting Office that EPA has awarded discretionary grants for the last several years without competition, oversight, or any measurable environmental outcomes. One example of the lack of oversight includes the Consumer Federation of America, a group that lobbies the EPA, receiving $5 million in grants over the last 5 years. The testimony lead me to characterize the story of grants management, especially for discretionary grants, over the last ten years as one of a revolving door of IG audits and GAO reports, congressional hearings, and new EPA policies. It is necessary to stop that cycle and reform the way EPA awards grants. This Committee will take its oversight responsibility in regards to grants management very seriously, and I am pleased that the Administrator is working with this Committee to ensure new and effective grants management that protects human health and the environment.
One additional area I find troubling is in the President’s SmartWay Transport Partnership program. I am supportive of voluntary programs to achieve emission reduction goals, but that raises the question of ‘when does a voluntary program crosses the line and become a coercive program?’ It seems to me that when a large number of large companies agree to award contracts to carriers based on whether they are members of a government program, that line is crossed.
Because this budget on a whole is a move in the right direction and I am confident things will change for the better under your leadership, I’ll end on a positive note. I strongly support the clean bus initiative for which the President recommends $65 million. The program is funded in the budget resolution for $65 million as well. However, I would caution everyone, that while I fully support the program, it has not been authorized by this Committee. Before it is allocated any money, the EPW Committee must act on it.
Finally, I would like to say something on the MTBE Liability relief in the Energy Bill. It is no wonder the Trial Lawyers have been desperately trying to kill the bill, even though the liability is very narrow in scope, only dealing defective products. Just last month, Richard Blumenthal, the Attorney General of Connecticut advertised a sweet-heart deal for trial lawyers. He is taking bids for law firms to sue MTBE producers on behalf of the State on a contingent fee basis. It is no wonder that the trial lawyers have been out in force trying to defeat the Energy Bill.
Governor Leavitt, I look forward to your testimony. One note for my colleagues on the Committee, it is my intention to bring to the floor both the wastewater and chemical security bills. I encourage you to bring any concerns you have to my staff in the very near future.