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Bush seeks 6 percent cut for environment

A program to upgrade the nation’s sewerage systems would take the biggest hit under President Bush’s proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by nearly 6 percent.
/ Source: Reuters

The Bush administration proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by nearly 6 percent Monday by targeting a program that helps cities replace aging sewerage systems.

The EPA said the requested reduction, to $7.57 billion in fiscal 2006, was part of the federal government’s overall belt-tightening, but environmental groups said it would hurt an important clean water program.

Total EPA funding would decline from $8 billion, which Congress allocated in the current budget year for the agency to protect the nation’s air, water and land. In 2004, the EPA had a budget of $8.4 billion.

Acting EPA Administrator Steve Johnson, defending the plan as “a strong request that allows us to keep up the pace of environmental protections,” said the cuts were part of the administration’s larger deficit-cutting plan. The White House is facing a record federal budget deficit, not adjusting for inflation.

Activists say clean water in peril
Most of the EPA cut would come from a reduction in funding for a revolving fund that states use to upgrade sewerage and septic systems, as well as storm-water run-off projects. Funding for the fund would fall $361 million, or 33 percent, in Bush’s proposal.

Environmental groups say cities need the loans and grants to replace and upgrade aging sewerage systems, some of which are over a century old.

“This year’s cuts are really bad for clean water,” said Rob Perks, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

The lower request would actually offset higher funds appropriated by Congress in 2004 and 2005, thereby maintaining the total commitment to the program of $6.8 billion through 2011, said a spokeswoman for the EPA.

“Federal funding of this program was never intended to be permanent,” she said.

The decision to cut the state water program was “one of savings and making some tough choices,” Johnson said.

The administration’s budget plan would hold steady a separate $850 million state fund for clean drinking water.

The EPA budget would also increase funding to clean up 600 toxic “brownfield” sites by $47 million and add $28 million to remove toxic sediments from the Great Lakes.

Money for the Superfund — an industry program to clean up toxic waste sites — would rise slightly, to $1.28 billion.

Congress will debate and revise the White House budget proposal over the next few months before finalizing a government spending plan for fiscal 2006, which begins Oct. 1.