Mean to Greens

Bush’s budget slashes funding for the EPA. No big surprise there.

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President Bush has compiled arguably the worst environmental record of any modern-day president. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the fiscal year 2005 budget proposal includes a 7.2 percent decrease in funding for the EPA. What exactly will the cuts mean for the agency?

The $7.76 billion allotted the EPA this year is actually a 1.7 percent increase from the president’s 2004 budget request, according to the administration, but it’s 7.2 percent less than the amount Congress eventually approved for the agency for 2004.

Michael Leavitt head of the EPA, said “With the president’s budget, we can pick up the pace — protecting our land, cleaning our air and cleansing our water — efficiently, effectively and without impairing the economy.”

The agency, though, will have to scale back competitive grants program by about a third—down from the $100 million level it has consistently maintained over the past couple of years. The program pays for studies by scientists outside the agency, and has traditionally made up 15-20 percent of the EPA’s research budget. The New York Times notes: “The Bush administration has repeatedly emphasized the importance of “sound science” in developing environmental regulations, but this year’s federal budget makes significant cuts in research at the Environmental Protection Agency.”

The budget also includes a request that Congress open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling with the proviso that profits would go toward renewable energy programs. The president’s ANWR budget language, if adopted by Congress in its annual budget resolution, would also open an alternative path toward drilling that faces fewer obstacles than say, the provision contained in the ill-fated energy bill.

Oil drilling in the Arctic refuge has emerged as one of the most contentious issues in environmental politics. The president of Defenders of Wildlife, a Washington-based national advocacy group, says:

“This budget is even more out of touch with reality than previous offerings. [It ignores] the clear will of the American people, who do not want to trash one of the wildest places left in America.”

The budget request increases cooperative conservation grants for endangered species by $8 million, but cuts funding for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by $7.5 million compared to 2004 appropriations.
Conservationists believe the administration has no intent of following the ESA and say it is deliberately underfunding the law.

The Bush administration has been criticized for paying too much heed to industry in formulating its environmental policies, a perception that won’t be dispelled by this budget cut. Interestingly, the decrease to the EPA budget comes just a few days after a story in the Washington Post pointed out that language in new EPA guidelines regarding mercury emissions is the same as that of memos sent by the utility industry. The new EPA mercury rules effectively abandon plans to require coal and oil-fired plants to reduce mercury pollutants in favor of a flexible “cap-and-trade” program favored by industry, and that environmentalists say is likely to result in higher levels of mercury in some localities. The Center for American Progress sees industry as the driver of this:

“It’s little wonder that the White House can propose slashing funding at the EPA by 7.2% – in this Administration, industry lobbyists are in charge of environmental regulations. The WP compared the EPA’s new mercury emission rules with two memos sent to federal officials by Latham & Watkins, the lobbyists for Cinergy Inc. and other major energy companies, and found “at least a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes verbatim, from the industry suggestions” – not shocking, considering the two EPA air quality officials overseeing the mercury rule changes previously worked at Latham & Watkins. It is also not surprising, considering that since 2000, employees of Latham & Watkins have contributed over $68,000 to President Bush, while Cinergy has contributed $19,750 to the President…Claudia M. O’Brien, who wrote the memos for Latham & Watkins, “said it was ‘gratifying’ that the EPA found the firms’ analysis persuasive.”

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