Bush Budget Slashes Environment, Agriculture Spending

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, February 3, 2004 (ENS) - The $2.4 trillion budget released by the White House on Monday doles out big increases for defense and homeland security, but cuts or holds the line on spending for much of the rest of the federal government. Seven of 15 cabinet level departments will have their budgets slashed under the Bush plan, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) facing some of the largest cuts.

The Bush plan would reduce the EPA budget by 7.2 percent and the USDA budget by 8.1 percent. The departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, Justice, Transportation and Treasury will also be cut.

President George W. Bush told reporters the budget reflects his priorities of winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland, strengthening the economy and reducing the federal budget deficit.

The President said the proposal would trim the budget deficit from a record $521 billion to $363 billion and would eliminate or shrink more than 120 major federal programs.

"I am confident our budget addresses a very serious situation ... we are at war and we [have] dealt with a recession," Bush said. "And our budget is able to address those significant factors in a way that reduces the deficit in half." cabinet

President George W. Bush and his Cabinet discuss the budget with reporters Monday at the White House. (Photo by Eric Draper courtesy White House)
"We propose, the Congress disposes," Bush added. "We look forward to working with the appropriators to meet our priorities and to reduce the deficit in half. We are confident we can do so."

The overall budget increases federal spending by some 3.9 percent over 2004 appropriations. It contains a 7 percent increase in defense spending and a 10 percent increase in spending for homeland security.

The $29 billion in new money for defense and homeland security increases this part of the budget to $432 billion, a figure that does not include funding for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The rest of the discretionary budget is held to a spending increase of 0.5 percent - a total of $2 billion in additional spending.

The USDA budget calls for increased funding for food safety programs, but cuts conservation programs by $120 million and rural development spending by $244 million.

The $7.76 billion proposed for the EPA falls short of the $8.6 billion approved for the agency's fiscal 2004 budget, but the Bush administration stressed that it is committed to environmental protection.

The White House has embraced "the philosophy that a growing American economy is the solution to improving our environmental quality," said Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt noted that the nation has made enormous progress in protecting the environment over the past 30 years and said "this budget will enable the EPA to pursue even better ways to care for the environment and protect people's health." Leavitt

EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt is confident the cuts will not impede environmental progress. (Photo courtesy the EPA)
The White House has earmarked $1.4 billion for the Superfund program - a $124 million increase of 2004 appropriations - and provided additional money for grant programs to monitor underground storage tanks and brownfields development.

But the Bush budget cuts some $500 million from the Clean Water state revolving fund, which provides grant money to state and tribal governments for development and upgrades of sewage.

In addition, it slashes water infrastructure funding by more than $300 million and cuts funding for the EPA's clean air and global climate change programs by $21 million.

Vermont Independent Senator James Jeffords said the budget "not only shortchanges our environment, it challenges our nation's role as a global environmental leader."

"Virtually every environmental program under my committee's jurisdiction has been targeted for funding cuts," said Jeffords, the ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "Congress will not let this stand."

Leavitt focused on several funding announcements he unveiled last week, including $65 million to expand a grant program aimed at reducing harmful air emissions from school buses, $45 million for contaminated sediment cleanup in the Great Lakes, $10 million in grants to protect the Chesapeake Bay and $20 million for new water monitoring studies. bus

The overall EPA budget is cut by 7.2 percent, but the administration plans a $60 million increase for a grant program to cut harmful air pollution from school buses. (Photo courtesy the EPA)
"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," Leavitt said. "We can accelerate our environmental progress in protecting our spectacular landscapes, our vital ecosystems, and the health of our communities and their citizens."

Phillip Clapp of the National Environmental Trust says the EPA budget reflects the administration's disinterest in protecting the environment.

The $124 million increase for the Superfund "looks good on paper" but it is tied to the cuts in clean water funding, Clapp said.

"Clean water or toxic waste - as if Congress is going to choose one over the other in an election year," he said. "At best, expect the status quo."