Welcome Administrator Johnson. I am pleased to have you testify before the Committee today on the President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2007 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 under five minutes.
The Administration has proposed $7.32 billion for the EPA for fiscal year 2007. This is a $310 million cut to the EPA’s budget from the 2006 enacted level. However, this budget includes $199 million in cuts to the clean water SRF and more than $200 million in cuts to regional water programs and other Congressional priorities. These cuts will not be sustained throughout the process. I truly understand that in the current fiscal environment we need to make tough choices. However, I am frustrated by the unrealistic cuts. There are many opportunities to make further cuts that could survive the process that were overlooked by the Administration.
This is disappointing because in addition to my demands at last year’s hearing, I sent a letter to you earlier this year urging you to propose cuts that stand a realistic chance of being reduced or eliminated. A budget that focuses so much of the pain on regional programs and Congressional priorities does not meet this goal.
The proposed cuts to the Clean Water SRF, regional water programs, and other Congressional priorities are likely to be restored–and the Administration knows it. Cuts to these programs account for more than $400 million–far more than the overall budget cut of $310 million. This allows the Administration to increase other programs, even though they know that in the end Congress will restore much of their proposed cuts. My colleagues on the Minority and the so-called environmentalists are attacking you for making cuts, when at the end of the day you have actually failed to realistically reduce the budget.
Congress would be justified in restoring many of the cuts you proposed. There is a nationwide crisis and need for more water infrastructure money. It is clear from the cuts you have proposed that the Administration does not fully understand this crisis.
Another reason for these Congressional earmarks is that in their absence, the bureaucrats at the EPA would solely determine how to spend those funds instead of Congress. If we don’t earmark, the career bureaucrats will make the decisions, thus taking the decision out of the control of the people who are most responsive and accountable to their constituents. Furthermore, without funding that is distributed in accordance with a formula, our communities, that are struggling with unfunded mandates, must compete with one another for the attention and approval of the career bureaucrats that dole out the EPA’s discretionary grants. Members of Congress know very well the needs in their districts. I assure you that I know the needs of Oklahoma far better than any unaccountable bureaucrat in Washington.
This hearing focuses on the EPA budget, and EPA grants are a major example of spending decisions by unelected bureaucrats. Each year, the EPA awards half of its budget in a wide range of grants to a variety of recipients. However, over the past ten years, EPA has received criticism from the Office of Management and Budget, the EPA Inspector General, and the Government Accountability Office for preferential treatment in grant making, awarding grants without competition or peer-review, and requiring no environmental results. Due to oversight from this Committee, EPA has begun to make progress in grant making. However, let me provide some examples this Committee has uncovered of spending decisions made by bureaucrats within EPA.
We have found taxpayer dollars being used for dubious projects such as funding questionable environmental projects in other countries which included funds to expand the environmental capacity of Moroccan non-governmental organizations and government agencies, including a 10-day US study tour for Moroccan officials to Maryland. Additionally, grants funds have been allocated to implement regional energy efficiency standards for buildings in the Russian Federation and implement an indoor air initiative in the Yunnan community of China. I believe and I know the taxpayers in Oklahoma agree with me that funding for these grants could be better spent at home.
Along with grants oversight, my staff has been investigating EPA regions and how they vary in their implementation and enforcement of environmental regulations. So far, we have learned that of the ten EPA regions, there is often little uniformity in how the same program is managed in different regions. This concerns me because it appears that regions have the ability to depart from national guidelines when enforcing federal regulations without any repercussions. For example, Region 5 bureaucrats have been notoriously autonomous in their enforcement of federal environmental law finding people in violation of the law for things no other region has cited for. This can lead to situations that are patently unfair, that stifle commerce, and fair national competition. I will continue to look into situations in which regions move out of the acceptable variance of enforcement and no longer will regions advance their own agenda without being noticed and held accountable.
I would like to applaud the Agency's recent efforts to reduce the compliance burden associated with the Toxic Release Inventory, or TRI. Last fall, EPA proposed allowing certain TRI reporters to use the shorter TRI Form A instead of the longer TRI Form R. This move would save an estimated 165,000 hours of burden each year while retaining 99% of current long form data. This is the type of streamlining the Agency should do and I encourage you to continue to look for other areas where you can create efficiencies and reduce burdens while maintaining environmental protection. The Agency also said it would begin to examine the possibility of altering the timing of TRI data reporting, perhaps moving to an every other year schedule, potentially resulting in $2 million in savings in the "off year." I know that you will carefully evaluate the issues associated with these burden reduction efforts and balance them with the Agency's commitment to providing information to the public.
I have several oversight priorities critical to my state of Oklahoma. As you know, Tar Creek has been my top priority for some time. We have made tremendous progress, but much more needs to be done. I appreciate the EPA working with me and Governor Henry. Just two weeks ago, a subsidence report was issued. The study was the result of one of my visits to Tar Creek, riding around the chat piles with Ed Keehely–a retired nuclear engineer from DOE who lives in the area and has been very involved in the Tar Creek superfund site. This report provided very new information detailing undermining and potential cave-ins some 200 structures, including homes and churches, were found to be at risk. This new information has brought about a reevaluation of our priorities, and I will be seeking your commitment to work with myself, Governor Henry, and the other Federal agencies in order to do whatever is necessary to address this risk.
In addition, am deeply concerned that nearly 80 percent of the small drinking water systems in my state are not in compliance with the disinfection byproduct stage I rule. And to add insult to injury, EPA recently finalized an additional two drinking water rules that will place additional burdens on these small communities. In addition to my legislation to provide these communities regulatory relief, I will continue to examine the costs and science behind these proposals.
I would also like to encourage the Agency to create a more open and transparent scientific process. The American people deserve to truly understand the risks to which they are exposed, including any uncertainty about that risk and how a particular risk compares to another. The American taxpayer funds these efforts and thus they should be able to evaluate them and make judgments about how their dollars are spent.
Administrator Johnson, I look forward to your testimony. I again urge my colleagues to keep their statements brief.