Welcome Administrator Johnson. I am pleased to have you testify before the Committee today on President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2006 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.
The Tar Creek Superfund Site in northeastern Oklahoma has been a top priority for me and the EPA. When Administrator Leavitt visited the site with me, he became the first Cabinet level official to tour Tar Creek and see what we are dealing with there. Tar Creek is a 40 square-mile site that is the number one listed site on the National Priorities List. While, much work has been done and much credit goes to the EPA and specifically the Region 6 Administrator, Richard Greene, there is more work left to do. I want to take this opportunity to get the EPA’s continued commitment to protect human health at Tar Creek and get this site cleaned up.
The Administration considers the ultra-low sulfur diesel rule as one of its premiere environmental successes, and they are right that once successfully implemented, the ULSD rule will have benefits. However, I remain as concerned today as I was some five years ago when I first questioned EPA on the rule’s potential supply and deliverability impacts. Refiners and engine manufacturers have spent billions of dollars to develop technologies to meet the stringent 15 ppm sulfur standard. Yet, challenges still remain regarding sufficiently accurate inline testing procedures and potential contamination in the pipeline and transportation infrastructure. EPA projected that the rule will increase diesel prices 4 or 5 cents per gallon at the pump. Given some of the concerns raised about contamination and inadequate testing, I imagine that those initial cost projections will certainly change. I look forward to working with EPA to ensure that the rule is implemented effectively while guarding against supply shortfalls and price increases.
I have already been working with the Agency on grants management for the past year and it remains one of my top priorities. Each year over $4 billion, amounting to at least half the EPA’s annual budget, is awarded in non-discretionary and discretionary grants. Last year, this Committee received testimony concerning a lack of competition in grant awards, a lack of demonstrable results from grants, and a general lack of oversight. In fact, the EPA IG included in her testimony the results of an audit of a non-profit group where EPA was giving taxpayer dollars directly to a lobbying organization for over five years. The EPA has responded positively to oversight in this area. By the end of this month, EPA will have finalized a new Web site with the most publicly available information ever offered on awarded grants. EPA is competing grants rather than freely awarding funds to groups that regularly engage in politics to undermine this President’s environmental record. EPA has also developed new policies to measure environmental results and provide closer oversight of non-profit groups. However, new policies are not enough. They must be followed. Real reform of grants management requires the attention of the highest levels of administration within the EPA and its program offices to establish a consistent and transparent system of awarding and monitoring grants. This Committee will continue to take its oversight responsibility in regards to grants management very seriously, and I am pleased that the EPA is working with this Committee to ensure new grants management that protects human health and the environment.
The government has a role in safeguarding the nation’s infrastructure which includes the roads on which we drive and pipes from which we receive our water. I, like many of my colleagues on the Committee, continue to be troubled by the Administration’s and its predecessor’s history of cuts to the Clean Water SRF, the primary federal clean water mechanism. We conducted a field hearing in Tulsa, Oklahoma last year during which eight communities testified to struggles with both drinking water and clean water regulations. Just as I have tackled grants management, I intend to use this committee’s oversight role to continue examining the costs imposed on our local communities by federal water regulations. Not only do we need to ensure these costs are necessary because they are addressing legitimate public health and environmental threats but evidently we also need to convince some that Congress and the EPA have a role in this escalating cost crisis.
I look forward to next week’s Committee passage of the President’s Clear Skies proposal. As my colleagues know, this is the largest reduction in utility emissions ever called for by an American President. The success of the Acid Rain program is the reason the President, Senator Voinovich and myself believe that Clear Skies is the best approach to reducing utility emissions. It will do so faster, cheaper and more efficiently that the Clean Air Act. Our goal is to expand the Acid Rain program to achieve greater emissions reductions without the endless lawsuits that have resulted under the Clean Air Act. I look forward to working with the Administration to get this bill signed into law.
This is going to be a difficult budget year. Budgets are tight and the nation is at war. The Administration is proposing a 5 percent cut to the EPA’s budget. I would encourage my colleagues who are tempted to criticize this alleged cut to look very closely at what has been proposed. Aside from cuts to programs the Agency knows Congress will put back, very few programs are given significant decreases.
Administrator Johnson, I look forward to your testimony. I again urge my colleagues to keep their statements brief.