Welcome Administrator Johnson. I am pleased to have you testify before the Committee today on the President Bush’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget proposal for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Administration has proposed $7.2 billion for the EPA for fiscal year 2008. This is a $500 million cut from the 2007 level. As I have said in years past, I am very concerned about EPA proposing large cuts to programs that are high priorities to Congress, like the Clean Water SRF and regional water programs. While the Agency has not finalized all of the fiscal year 2007 budget numbers, it appears that EPA continues to use these budgetary tricks to create the appearance of fiscal responsibility. My criticism is two-fold: the programs are important and shouldn’t be cut and the Administration knows that in most cases Congress won’t follow these cuts. When the nation is at war and running budget deficits, we simply must get more realistic about how we are spending taxpayers’ money. The nation must make difficult choices and make real cuts to programs that are not absolutely essential.
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 nearly $400 million, it may not be the time for Administratively-created programs. I raised the same concern about the Agency’s international grants last year and while these programs may not add up to much money they are a good starting point.
While I disagree with your cut to the SRF, I am pleased to see that the Administration has proposed an alternative to fill the gap. The budget includes lifting the cap on private activity bonds for water and wastewater infrastructure projects. This committee held hearings on this same proposal in the 106th Congress. I look forward to working with the Administration to see if using the tax code through private activity bonds would help fill the infrastructure gap given the shortage of appropriated dollars.
I would like to address a few other issues of critical importance to my state. As you are well aware, solutions to the Tar Creek Superfund Site have long been on of my top priorities. EPA has ranked Tar Creek as the most severe superfund site in the country on the National Priority List. Parts of this superfund site are so heavily undermined that homes and roads are literally falling into the ground. I appreciate the work of key EPA officials Richard Greene, Sam Coleman, and Susan Bodine along with many others working on this site. Progress has been made, but much is left to do. I want your continued commitment to work with me, Oklahoma state agencies, the Quapaw tribe and other area tribes, and the local residents to continue cleaning up Tar Creek.
Further, the Agency is in the process of finalizing several policies that are very important to Oklahomans. To begin, the Supreme Court issued its Rapanos decision in June. It is now February and the Agency has yet to issue guidance to its regions on how to implement the decision. The result of this delay is that the Corps of Engineers district offices have stopped making jurisdictional determinations, which is dramatically affecting the economic growth of this country. This guidance is long overdue.
Last year you proposed changes to the Agency’s affordability standard. As I have mentioned in the past, we have a real crisis in Oklahoma with regard to the Disinfection Byproducts Rule. Had the affordability standard accurately reflected the needs of small, rural towns, we might not be in such a dire situation. Furthermore, the Agency will soon promulgate a new rule to again revise the Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Rule. I have every expectation that the proposal will address the issues raised to you over the past several years by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Oklahoma Independent Oil Producers. These groups represent the backbone of Oklahoma’s economy and there is simply no basis for much of the burden the SPCC rule imposes on them.
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 878,000 entities with compliance assistance. The users of EPA’s web-based compliance centers have reached nearly 1.9 million users, an increase of 436,000 over last year. Each year, EPA has built on these kind of successes and is requesting an appropriate increase in funding for its Compliance Assistance Centers and compliance monitoring.
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. This concerns me because it appears that regions have the ability to advance their own agendas without any consequences. For example, bureaucrats in Region 9 have been interpreting a Memorandum of Agreement with the Corps as a license to manage the Corps 404 permitting process. These career bureaucrats in San Francisco want to “federalize” all development in Arizona and are misusing a procedural agreement to do so. It is not the role of EPA Regions to dictate all urban growth and development across the United States. I will continue to monitor such Regional abuses and hope my colleagues will join me in this effort.
Finally, Mr. Administrator, I am deeply interested in the EPA's implementation of the renewable fuel standard, in part because I moved that legislation through this Committee while chairman, and also because I am committed to improving our energy security. On that note, I look forward to working with you to make sure that the Agency takes steps to maximize fuel supply and reliability, and in particular provide flexibility to small refiners that provide critical fuel to many rural communities across the country.
Administrator Johnson, I look forward to your testimony.