Sunday, February 13, 2005

 

Latest Sierra Club RAW

ISSUE #96, February 10, 2005
Devil in the Details

By now you've probably heard enough about President Bush's budget to know it's a huge mess. You may know, for example, that the administration pretends to balance the books by counting on money from highly speculative leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Of course, the administration had to get creative to convince the American people that it could cut essential programs while still increasing the deficit.

The cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget were just as creative. For those not familiar with the budget process, the President presents a proposed budget for Congress to use as a guideline for funding government programs. If you wanted to know whether the Bush administration was increasing or decreasing support for a program, the honest and most direct thing to do would be to compare what Bush is proposing this year to the amount that Congress actually approved last year. Instead, the administration compares this year's request to last year's request, completely ignoring the actual amount of money the program finally received by Congress.

Confused? Consider the case of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a program that helps communities clean up their sewage systems. The Bush budget, released this week, claims to only cut the program by $170 million. As bad as that sounds, the truth is much worse. Look at what Congress actually spent on the clean water program as opposed to what Bush requested last year. In real numbers, Bush is proposing to cut $361 million from the program. If the Bush administration told the truth in its budget, there would be no way to hide its relatively low regard for clean water.

The EPA budget for Superfund is equally, if differently, misleading. Although there is a slight increase this year in requested Superfund program funding, the request for "remediation" (i.e. cleanup) funding is way down. It's $82 million less than Congress appropriated last year for funding both short- and long-term toxic waste cleanups. That comes on top of the dozens of cleanups that have been underfunded over the past two years, including sites where children play in yards contaminated with lead. Because taxpayers now foot the bill for the 3 out of 10 Superfund cleanups where there is no responsible party, EPA has no choice but to slow down toxic cleanups at other sites. The net result is that the Bush proposal would fund cleanup of only 40 of literally hundreds of Superfund sites.

They say the devil is in the details. And from the looks of this administration's budget, the devil has been very busy lately.

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