Administrator Leavitt, it is a pleasure to welcome you here today. We have known each other for many years, and I have great respect for your abilities and believe that working together we can make great strides in environmental protection.
When I chaired this Committee two years ago the President proposed a 3% cut in spending at the EPA. Last year, the President proposed a 6% cut, and this year the President is proposing a 7.2% cut from enacted levels. This is a most disturbing trend, and one that I am committed to working against.
This year, even the Chairman of the Budget Committee could not abide by the President’s proposed EPA budget cuts. Today the Senate is voting on a Republican budget that would increase not decrease spending at the EPA over last year’s levels. Though, of course, it remains to be seen whether the appropriators will feel as generous.
This budget is essentially flat and lifeless. It fails to recognize the tremendous public health and environmental challenges that we face now, and that we will leave for our children.
It is true that we have made great strides in reducing emissions of harmful pollutants. But, we have a long way to go to protect the public's health and clean up the environment. According to the EPA, more than 20,000 people are dying prematurely from fine particulate matter coming out of power plant stacks. That's happening right now, not 20 years from now.
Four-and-one-half million pounds of toxic air pollutants that cause birth defects, cancer, mutation and developmental effects are being spewed into the air every year. Acid rain continues to devastate ecosystems in the Northeast and now the Southeast. Respected scientific bodies say that global warming is occurring, at least in part because of manmade emissions.
And next year, according to the President's budget, approximately 175 million people will live in areas with unhealthy air. This is simply unacceptable in an advanced country like ours.
In the clean water arena, the Administration’s Budget completely fails to recognize the staggering water resource needs of this nation. The recent poll by Republican pollster Frank Luntz that I am holding in my hand shows that 91% of Americans are concerned that our waterways will not be clean for our children and grandchildren. Time after time Americans express their outrage at the weakening of clean and safe water protections and express their willingness to pay to maintain water quality standards.
In the 2005 budget, the Administration is proposing to cut nearly IN HALF the funds available for clean water infrastructure investments from $1.35 billion to $850 million. This is truly astonishing. In the last five years, an extremely broad consensus has emerged that more money is needed for water infrastructure. I will not accept promises of funding in out years. The District of Columbia can’t get lead-free pipes today with out year assumptions.
Soon I hope to get you to visit Vermont and see a body of water that holds a special place in my heart – Lake Champlain. I understand that the proposed budget increases funding for the Great Lakes, which I applaud and was authorized by this Committee. However, the same bill restoring the Great Lakes that the President signed into law two years ago also provided an increase in funding to protect Lake Champlain. The trouble is, the EPA’s budget for Lake Champlain hasn’t changed. It is as if the Lake Champlain part of the bill is law only in the Twilight Zone.
I am also concerned about the one in four people, including 10 million children, who live within four miles of a toxic waste dump. The federal government's cleanup of abandoned Superfund sites has fallen over 50% in the last three years. This means that sites like the Elizabeth Mine in Strafford, Vermont, and the recently listed Pike Hill Copper Mine in Corinth, Vermont languish without cleanup funding year after year.
While acid mine drainage continues to contaminate the Connecticut River, I am deeply disappointed that the President has again refused to seek reauthorization of the polluter pays fees to fully fund the program.
I have many other concerns with the direction of environmental policy in this country ranging from cuts in the funding of science research and non-point source pollution cleanup to backsliding on New Source Review and environmental justice.
The Bush Administration has had more than 3 years to work with Congress to get multi-pollutant legislation finished.
Not once, despite my and others repeated entreaties, has the Administration tried to work out a tri-partisan compromise that could pass. Not once.
I am worried that time is not on our side. We owe it to our grandchildren that the air they breathe is clean, the water they drink is pure, and the food they eat is healthy. Again thank you for being here today Administrator Leavitt. I look forward to hearing your testimony.