Thank you, Mr. Chairman. EPA's mission, to protect human health and the environment, is critically important. Unfortunately, EPA’s proposed FY 2006 budget – along with the Bush administration’s never-ending attempts to roll back decades of environmental and public health protections – demonstrates yet again that this administration is not committed to protecting public health and the environment.
The President’s 2006 budget request would decrease EPA’s funding $452 million, 6 percent, from FY 2005 amounts. This is an $804 million, or 10 percent, cut from FY 2004 amounts. This is less funding than when Bush came into office.
EPA’s overall 2006 budget does not commit the resources necessary to assure the quality of life and clean environment that Americans expect and deserve. I do not see how, in times of rising rates of childhood cancer, asthma, and neurological and developmental disorders, decreasing funding to public health and environment programs can be justified.
As ranking member for the Superfund and Waste Management Subcommittee, I am particularly concerned about the growing backlog of toxic sites waiting for cleanup in the Superfund program. Internal EPA documents have projected that if funding for Superfund construction projects continues at current levels–the unmet need will be between $750 and $1 billion by next fiscal year, FY07.
The resulting hardship suffered by communities throughout the country waiting for cleanup dollars is real–10 million children live within 4 miles of a Superfund site and their health and welfare are at risk until they get the toxic sites in their neighborhoods cleaned up.
EPA has admitted that there are unmet needs. In a January 18th response to a letter I sent to EPA last October, Tom Dunne, the Acting head of the Superfund program, confirmed that funding was insufficient to start work at 19 projects that were 100% ready to go.
Yet despite the growing backlog, the President has substantially scaled back the budget request for FY 06–compared to his requests in FY05 and FY04. The President’s request has actually dropped by over $100 million compared to last year’s request. The need is growing and the request is shrinking–which tells us something about the President’s priorities.
Why should Superfund be a priority? I think the answer comes from a look at the consequences of failing to fund these sites. The Washington Post this past Thanksgiving wrote about one example, a site in Omaha that is heavily contaminated with lead and on a slow cleanup track.
At the Omaha lead site there are 9,400 children under 7 living in the affected area of the site and threatened with lead poisoning. Whole neighborhoods were contaminated so the problem is in thousands of backyards due to a smelter that deposited lead throughout the area.
One of the consequences of the slow pace of cleanup is that several thousand children have high lead levels at the site today. The Washington Post story talks about one child in particular who lost his ability to talk after exposure to the site. Obviously, this is a tragedy, but we have the power to do something about it. We should make cleanup of these sites a priority and fund the Superfund program.
Mike Leavitt visited the Omaha site in October while he was Administrator of EPA and he said at the time “the problem is our pocketbook does not stretch across all the places our heart responds to.”
I do not believe that we have reached the point, despite our fiscal problems, where we have to allow this kind of threat to continue for years and years. We need to adequately fund Superfund–because the consequences of failing to fund this program are simply not consistent with our values.
Superfund is not the only EPA program to be underfunded.
Overall clean water programs are slashed a drastic $693 million, or 42 percent at a time when EPA estimates that it these programs will need $388 billion through 2019. This decrease includes a 33 percent cut for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and an 83 percent cut in funding targeted to specific projects. This means that money going to local governments to clean up water is gone with no alternative source for funding in sight. This means no funding for critical projects, such as wastewater and stormwater infrastructure improvements; watershed management plans; and combined sewer systems.
Requested funding for Leaking Underground Storage Tanks, which can hold extremely toxic chemicals that can contaminate the ground, aquifers, streams and other water bodies, is at $73 million. Although this is $3 million above FY 2005 funding levels, it is 3 million below 2004 levels, and it is insufficient to address the backlog of 130,000 sites awaiting cleanup. MTBE, which has wrecked havoc with water supplies across the country, has come from leaking underground storage tanks. There are approximately 675,000 tanks across the United States, and more than 445,000 confirmed releases from these tanks as of September 2004, nearly 43,000 of them in California.
I see a pattern here – of decreasing funding to critical water quality and infrastructure programs, as well as decreasing funding to programs that can help prevent the contamination in the first place. This calls into question this administration’s commitment to clean and healthy water for all Americans.
A budget that decreases funding for public health and the environment, stops funding local water quality projects, drastically slows Superfund clean-ups, and transfers the burden of clean ups to taxpayers forces me to continue to question this administration’s commitment to public health and the environment.