Welcome, Administrator Johnson. I am pleased to have you testify before the Committee today on President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget proposal for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Administration has proposed $7.14 billion for the EPA for fiscal year 2009. This is a $330 million, or 4.4 percent, cut from the 2008 level. Given the continuing global war on terror and the large deficit, I think it is necessary to make some tough choices and cut wasteful spending out of the federal budget. I’m getting tired of saying this, but once again the budget does not make enough tough choices.
Over half of the total proposed cuts comes from the Clean Water SRF, regional water programs, and other Congressional priorities that the Administration knows Congress will likely restore. It seems as if the determining factor for cutting a program’s funding was if Congress increased funding for that program above the Administration’s 2008 budget request or directed spending. These priorities are summarily dismissed as wasteful earmarks and stripped from the budget. Since the Administration knows Congress will restore many of the proposed cuts, this allows the Administration to increase other programs; and at the end of the day, no hard decisions are made.
Despite all the hoopla and criticism from the Democrats, after 7 years the Bush Administration has failed to find any meaningful savings or wasteful spending in the EPA budget. I find it hard–if not impossible–to believe there are no programs that should be cut. The only significant cuts the Administration ever proposes are the ever-popular and much needed SRFs and Congressional earmarks. I feel we have squandered the opportunity to make the EPA budget more cost effective and efficient. I hope you spend the final year of this Administration carefully examining EPA programs to determine which are truly environmentally beneficial and cost effective and which are wasteful.
For instance, one place to exercise some budgetary restraint would be with the voluntary programs EPA has created that have not been authorized by Congress. Some of these may have very laudable goals, but at a time when the Agency is proposing cutting clean water funding by over $300 million, it may not be the time for Administratively-created programs. I raised the same concern about the Agency’s international grants previously, and while these programs may not add up to much money, they are a good starting point.
As I have indicated, I will once again be supporting efforts to restore the large cut you proposed to the critical Clean Water SRF program. There is a nationwide crisis and a need for more water infrastructure money that is acknowledged by this Administration. In the recent Clean Watershed Needs Survey, you calculated over $200 billion in need for publicly owned treatment works. While I continue to disagree with your cuts to the SRF, I am pleased to see that the Administration has again proposed lifting the cap on private activity bonds for water and wastewater infrastructure projects. I look forward to working with the Administration to see if using the tax code through private activity bonds would help fill some of the infrastructure gap, given the shortage of appropriated dollars. While public-private partnerships are not the sole solution, we need to do everything we can to encourage them since we will never be able to fully fund our infrastructure needs.
Compounding this lack of water infrastructure funding are the many costly new regulations imposed on localities. In Oklahoma, we continue to have municipalities struggling with the arsenic rule and with the Disinfection Byproducts (DBP) Stage I rule. Small systems who purchase water from alternative systems and have not had to test, treat, or monitor their water must now comply with DBPII. In EPA’s most recent drinking water needs survey, Oklahoma identified $4.8 billion in infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. $107 million of that need is to meet federal drinking water standards. This does not include costs imposed by Oklahoma communities to meet federal clean water requirements, the new Groundwater rule, the Disinfection Byproducts Stage II rule or the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule. As you know, I have been in communication with your office about these rules and their impact on Oklahoma. I am looking forward to continuing to work with you to devise ways to assist these communities in reaching these drinking water standards.
One of those ways is through compliance assistance. This year, the President's budget requests the highest level of funding ever for the enforcement program, including its Compliance Assistance Centers to help people comply with the SPCC and Disinfection Byproduct rules. I appreciate the Administration's work to assist the regulated community to comply with often confusing and burdensome rules. This year, the EPA has helped 1,228,000 entities with compliance assistance. EPA's web-based compliance centers have reached millions more. I applaud EPA for continuing to build on these kinds of successes.
Within the air program, there are three specific areas that I would like to address. First, I want to commend you for continuing to support the clean diesel grant program funding. I was a co-sponsor of clean diesel legislation and fully support this program which significantly improves air quality for a fraction of the cost of trying to achieve these reductions through regulatory mandates. I also want to commend you for continuing your agency's support for the Asia-Pacific Partnership. EPA's contribution is a very small, but necessary funding of this important program. Lastly, I would remind you that I have long supported a strong and improved monitoring network for particulate matter. Two years ago, funding was cut from this program that has yet to be restored. Monitors that measure not just mass, but types of particles, will enable us to better tailor our health laws in the future so that we reduce the unnecessary burden on the regulated community while simultaneously achieving superior health benefits. Without these funds, there is a strong incentive for states to cut vital speciation monitors, which are comparatively expensive to maintain.
As you are well aware, solutions to the Tar Creek Superfund Site have long been on my list of top priorities. EPA has long ranked Tar Creek as one of the most severe superfund sites in the country. Last week, EPA announced a new plan addressing not only clean-up, but also acting upon a provision I placed in WRDA to provide voluntary relocation assistance to area residents. I appreciate the work of key EPA officials Susan Bodine, Richard Greene, and Sam Coleman, along with many others working on this site. I look forward to continuing to work with you to implement this new plan and thank you for all your help to date on this important issue.
My staff has continued to investigate EPA regions and how they vary in their implementation and enforcement of environmental regulations. We have learned that of the ten EPA regions, there is often little uniformity in how the same program is managed in different regions. Inconsistency in the application of environmental laws creates enforcement uncertainty for the courts and for citizens who are trying to follow the law. I look forward to continuing to work with you on this problem.
Finally, Mr. Administrator, I am deeply interested in the EPA's implementation of the overly aggressive bio-fuels increase mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 passed in December. These mandates allow no room for error in a fuels industry already constrained by tight supplies, full capacity, environmental regulation, and volatile market conditions. As you know, Congress imposed a nearly five-fold expansion of the Renewable Fuels Standard mandate despite mounting questions surrounding ethanol’s effect on livestock feed prices, its economic sustainability, its transportation and infrastructure needs, its water usage and numerous other issues. On that note, I look forward to working with you to determine if these new mandates are even achievable and to explore the many potential ramifications.
Administrator Johnson, I look forward to your testimony.