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Bush Slashes Budget for Environment, Clean Energy

by Cat Lazaroff

"It represents compassionate conservatism," said President Bush
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Though you cannot tell from the glowing reviews provided by White House Cabinet members, President George W. Bush's first federal budget would slash funding for environmental programs, energy conservation and agricultural preservation. The budget met praise from industry and Congressional Republicans, but was roundly condemned by environmental and public interest groups, as well as Congressional Democrats.

"It's a budget that protects tax payers, protects children, protects our surplus. It represents compassionate conservatism," said President Bush during a meeting with Cabinet members Monday morning. "This budget funds our needs without the fat."

The $2 trillion spending plan boosts spending for education, social services, international affairs and the national defense. But smart growth programs, natural resources and the environment, agriculture, energy and transportation all face substantial cuts.

In all, the Bush budget would cut about $8 billion for previously funded projects and programs, to help the administration reach its goal of a $1.6 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years.

The budget "makes clear he leaves no room for essential national needs and wants to cut scores of services and programs vital to the well being of millions of families to pay for his tax cut," warned House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri.

Among the funding cuts are $162 million for the Wetlands Reserve program, which provides technical and financial assistance to farmers who wish to restore and protect agricultural wetlands. Energy efficiency research programs would be cut by 30 percent, and renewable energy programs by 40 percent.

The Smithsonian Institution, which operates 14 museums in Washington, DC and New York City, the National Zoo, and research facilities around the country, would be forced to close its Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, where endangered species are studied and bred in captivity.

In contrast, the Department of Defense would see its budget rise by $14.2 billion, to $310.5 billion in 2002. Education Department funding would climb from $39.9 billion in 2001 to $44.5 billion in 2002.

The Bush budget, "cuts environmental enforcement, fails to provide enough funding for the National Science Foundation and cuts support for small businesses," said Gephardt. "The President is also beholden to energy producers, and his budget seems to reflect this priority by cutting energy research and development."

Some of the largest cuts in the president's budget proposal are in the alternative energy sector. The budget provides $19.0 billion in 2002, which is $700 million, or three percent, below the 2001 budget.

Those funding reductions are largely achieved through cuts in renewable energy research and development programs, which would lose more than $277 million in funds. Energy efficiency programs, with the exception of the home weatherization program, would be cut by up to 50 percent.

"Continuing and expanding programs that have been in place as the country drifted to the brink of an energy crisis does not appear to be a wise course of action," said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. "We need a better measure of success in the energy resource area."

Critics called the budget's priorities skewed.

"This proposal is the opposite one would expect from an administration that has used the word "crisis" to describe our current energy situation," said Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "This is an anti-energy policy budget."

Meanwhile, research into cleaner coal technologies would gain $2 billion over 10 years. More than $1.5 billion would be provided for the design and development of new nuclear weapons.

Funding for nuclear power expansion would increase, while funds for cleanups at existing nuclear sites would be slashed.

"These draconian cuts will have significant consequences for consumers," said Susanna Drayne, coordinator of the Sustainable Energy Coalition. "For example, energy efficiency and renewable energy activities that currently save consumers more than $30 billion a year will perish. Research and development will decrease for super efficient cars, appliances, heating and cooling systems, windows, and lighting products. And efforts to improve and make renewable energy sources such as solar energy, geothermal generation, and wind power more affordable will be severely limited."

Bush pledged to provide future funding for some alternative energy research through anticipated revenues from opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and other public lands to energy exploration. Beginning in 2004, the budget would dedicate $1.2 billion from ANWR leases to fund increased research on solar and renewable energy technology research and development.

The budget continues funding for the Energy Star program that supports energy efficient building design and technologies for industry and school buildings. The controversial Partnership for the Next Generation of Vehicles, a 10 year research and development program to develop cars that achieve 85 miles per gallon with low emissions, also receives continued funding.

The Interior Department's budget makes good on one of Bush's environmental campaign promises by fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million.

The LWCF gives money from offshore oil and gas exploration leases to the states for use in conservation programs. But critics say the states have too much discretion in how the funds are used, so that much of the money could be used for projects like new roads and docks, rather than land protection.

"This historic commitment represents the highest level of funding ever requested for grants to states and tribes," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. "President Bush offers more flexibility to meet the individual needs of states. Funds may be used for conservation of endangered and threatened species, wetland restoration and conservation, and for conservation of habitats for migratory birds and other non-game species of fish and wildlife."

In another campaign pledge, the budget would eliminate the National Park Service (NPS) deferred maintenance backlog within five years and implement management reforms, in part by directing a greater percentage of existing user fees to address the backlog. The budget includes a $61.1 million increase in appropriations for construction and maintenance projects, and a commitment to dedicate an additional $40 million in fee receipts to backlog projects, for a total budget of $439.6 million for deferred maintenance.

"This budget will enable the National Park Service to continue conserving our parks, monuments, and historic sites," said NPS Acting Director Denis Galvin. " Full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund will also place us in a strong position to provide new tools to local communities, states and tribes that will allow them to pursue additional recreation and conservation opportunities for citizens."

But Thomas Kiernan, president of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, says the president's budget in reality provides little money for protecting the parks' natural resources, while devoting too much to so called "brick and mortar" projects such as road and building maintenance.

Just $20 million is proposed for the Park Service's Natural Resource Challenge, a multi-year action plan to provide a level of information critical to sound management of natural resources in parks, for example.

"Giving the Park Service only $20 million for resource needs is like putting a patient on life support and providing no electricity," Kiernan said. "We will continue to lose plant and animal species and historic and cultural artifacts and national parks also will continue to suffer from degrading air quality."

Overall, the Interior Department's budget falls $400 million, from $10.2 billion in 2001 to $9.8 billion in 2002. The budget focuses on controversial fire management programs aimed at reducing fuel loads on public lands, and on incentive programs aimed at encouraging private conservation efforts.

Funding for oil and gas exploration on public lands would rise. The budget proposes an increase of $15 million for the Bureau of Land Management to expand energy and mineral activities including energy resource surveys, coalbed methane permitting preparation, preparation for lease sales in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and planning for leasing in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would get $1.09 billion, down $167.9 million from 2001 funding. The budget includes $112 million for Endangered Species programs, including $2 million more than currently available for endangered species listing.

On the plus side, the president's budget would eliminate a controversial lethal control program for the Yellowstone bison herd. The proposed budget includes $1.2 million for Yellowstone National Park to implement a new bison management program aimed at reducing the killing of bison while eliminating the risk of brucellosis, a disease causing spontaneous abortion in some animals, to local livestock.

The new management program would be funded by eliminating the Agriculture Department's brucellosis eradication program.

For the first time, the budget request includes funding for two grant programs that would provide incentives to encourage habitat conservation by landowners. The Landowner Incentive Program provides $50 million for matching grants to states, tribes and territories, to provide technical and financial assistance for landowners who voluntarily participate in the habitat protection.

An additional $10 million would be used to create a Private Stewardship Grant Program to assist individuals or groups involved in voluntary habitat protection or conservation.

"These innovative partnerships will help erase the conflict that too often paralyzes efforts to save threatened species," said Secretary Norton. "Farmers, ranchers and other landowners are often the best stewards of the land. We can achieve more by working with them - and capitalizing on their intimate knowledge of the land they depend on - and the land they love."

Programs to reduce wildland fire risks would receive almost double their current funding, for a total of $658.4 million. The funding could be used to cut down small trees, clear brush and assist rural fire programs.

The multi-agency CALFED Bay Delta Program, which aims to restore ecosystems and improve water management in California's Sacramento- San Joaquin Bay-Delta estuary, would receive $1 million. The CALFED program was not funded in the 2001 budget.

Another $2.7 million would fund restoration projects in the Florida Everglades, and $3.5 million would help protect salmon in the Columbia River Basin.

One department that would see major funding reductions is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps has faced repeated accusations of violating federal regulations and wasting millions on unneeded projects over the past two years.

The Corps' budget falls from $4.5 billion in 2001 to $3.9 billion in 2002. Given the large backlog of funding needed to complete construction projects already underway - more than $21 billion in the Construction, General account alone - the budget focuses on completing ongoing projects, rather than starting construction of new projects.

Among the projects that received continued funding is the flood control program in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The program would receive $280 million to fund the study, design construction, operation and maintenance of controversial water resources projects including new locks and dams.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), a construction industry group, decried the loss of Army Corps funds, but said the budget is generally friendly to builders.

"President Bush's budget proposal is a good start to addressing the tremendous investment that is needed for our nation's infrastructure," said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of AGC. "President Bush is an advocate for improving our nation's quality of life."

The AGC noted with approval that the Bush budget offers $1 billion boosts for highway funds and airport expansions, $300 million more for military construction, and $400 million for transit programs.

Discretionary funds for the Department of Agriculture, set at $19.4 billion in 2001, would fall to $17.9 billion in 2002. But most of that loss - nearly $1 billion - would be the elimination of disaster related projects that were funded this year.

The remaining cuts are largely in farmland conservation programs. Programs to be zeroed out include those that offer farmers incentives to protect water supplies, create wildlife habitat on farmland, and permanently protect their farmland from sprawling development.

The programs being cut, including the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Farmland Protection Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and others, comprised less than four percent of total farm spending of $32 billion in fiscal year 2001. Even that funding was not enough to fulfill all the requests for assistance: For the program that encourages farmers to restore wetlands alone, three out of every four farmers requesting assistance were rejected due to lack of funds.

"At a time when the world is getting a much clearer view of the many links between good conservation practices, food, farmland and quality of life, funding these conservation programs is more important than ever," argued Ann Sorensen, head of research at the American Farmland Trust's Center for Agriculture in the Environment at Northern Illinois University. "America's farmers aim to be good stewards, but we cannot tell them that they must carry the entire burden of providing environmental benefits for us all."

The Farmland Protection Program offers money to protect farmland threatened by sprawl The budget offers increased funding for animal disease and plant pests programs, food safety, agricultural research and trade promotion programs. But it decreases funding for agricultural foreign assistance.

"This budget funds key priorities within this Department," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. "It helps protect our borders against plant pests and animal diseases, provides full funding for food safety programs, and funds important programs to increase trade activity for U.S. agriculture."

The $7.3 billion fiscal year 2002 proposal for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a $56 million increase over the budget request from last year.

"It reflects this Administration's commitment to build partnerships across America to make our air cleaner, our water purer and our land better protected," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman at an EPA Headquarters press conference. The President's budget provides the funds the Agency needs to carry out its mission, "efficiently and effectively," Whitman added.

The proposal holds EPA's operating budget steady at $3.7 billion, while slashing other spending from $4.1 billion to $3.6 billion.

Included in that figure is a new $25 million program of state grants - money to improve and bolster enforcement efforts.

"In some cases, that will mean prosecution. In others, it will mean compliance assistance," said Whitman. "But no matter which course is chosen, it will produce the best possible result in each individual situation."

A second $25 million grant program is aimed at improvements to the states environmental information systems. This information partnership will allow states to produce more accurate and useful environment assessments.

To continue to ensure an abundant supply of safe clean water in every American community, the budget invests $2.1 billion in grants to states for water infrastructure needs, and additional funding for sewer overflow control.

The budget begins to shift some of the burden of environmental monitoring and enforcement to state and local governments, providing more than $1 billion in grants for states and tribes to administer environmental programs - the highest level in the EPA's history.

The new Dallas Sports Arena was built on the contaminated former site of a Dallas Electric Company generating plant As Bush promised during his campaign, the budget increases funding for brownfields rehabilitation to $97.7 million from the $92.6 million enacted in fiscal year 2001. Brownfields are lightly contaminated urban industrial sites.

"These funds will help turn abandoned environmental eyesores into community assets all across America," said Whitman.

Another Bush campaign promise appears to be broken by the proposed budget. Bush promised to provide $100 million for a debt for nature program under which the U.S. would forgive foreign debt in exchange for pledges to protect tropical rainforests.

But the President's proposed budget provides no new funding to the tropical forest initiative. Instead, it transfers $13 million from the U.S. AID department's conservation funds into rainforest protection programs.

"There are carryover funds, because this program has had real practical problems finding a place in the world so far where an actual swap can take place," said Mitch Daniels, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a press briefing on the budget. "The commitment, of course, was not for one year. Like many of the commitments the President made, it was either for an extended period of time or an unspecified period."

"So this is a down payment, and at this point, it's probably a bigger down payment than we think can be used in this next year," continued Daniels. "Like everything else the President proposed, [this] is something we have honored and will continue to, to the extent that it proves practical to do so."

Asked if the President had intended all along to provide just $13 million, Daniels replied that the President meant "$100 million as quickly as it can be used, which clearly would not be this year. If it makes you feel better, we could put $100 million there, and then $94 million would be sitting in an unexpended account a year from now if the experience of the last year did not change."

There is still a chance that some of the lost environmental funds could be restored as the budget battle continues. The House and Senate versions of the budget, along with the White House proposal, will be debated in a series of committees before final spending resolutions are sent to the President.

On Friday, the Senate passed a budget resolution that would reduce the President's proposed tax cut by $400 billion, and restore funding in some areas. The resolution includes an amendment that would increase federal funding to combat the effects of global climate change.

The amendment provides $4.5 billion over the next ten years to bolster federal programs to research the causes and effects of climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in clean energy technology and improve energy efficiency. The amendment passed the Senate by voice vote.

"The success of the Kerry-Collins amendment demonstrates that a critical bipartisan coalition exists on Capitol Hill to protect the environment," said Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters. "Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike recognize that global climate change is a serious problem that requires a serious solution."

But another amendment, which sought to block $2.1 billion in environmental funding cuts, was rejected by a 54 to 46 vote.

"President Bush's budget guts critical environmental safeguards to hand wealthy Americans a tax cut. By attempting to underfund pollution enforcement and other protections, President Bush continued his attacks on our clean air, clean water and wild places," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "While the Senate rejected these safeguards, we applaud Senators who stood up to keep the water we drink clean and the air we breathe healthy."

"Budget cuts of this magnitude will seriously hamper efforts to fight global warming, ensure the purity of our food, protect the public from air pollution, and set adequate drinking water standards for contaminants like arsenic," added Wesley Warren, an senior fellow for environmental economics at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We should be adding to these efforts, not subtracting from our future. Once these federal resources are gone, we may never get them back."

© 2001 Environment News Service and reprinted with permission

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