New EPA Budget Cuts Water Programs

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed budget for fiscal year 2004 seeks $850 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund

By Maureen Lorenzetti

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed budget for fiscal year 2004 seeks $850 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, $362 million less than what the White House asked for last year and $500 million below FY 2002.

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1, 2003.

In its latest request, EPA proposed that in 2004 the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund remain at $850 million.

Officials said that they hope to increase water program grants so states have more flexibility meeting "mutual water quality goals." The EPA budget seeks an additional $55 million for core water programs that would boost the budget to $470 million. Within that $55 million, states and tribes would receive $20 million to help them meet federal clean water rules, EPA said. During the next fiscal year, EPA said it plans to place a strong emphasis on monitoring and assessment.

EPA's new budget is expected to spark more debate over the role the federal government should play in upgrading the country's aging drinking and wastewater systems. Agency officials said they hope to have the CWSRF reach $2.8 billion level by 2011, but acknowledged that in the short term at least there are budget pressures brought on by homeland security issues and a looming war with Iraq.

Environmental groups meanwhile criticized the budget for not putting enough money toward enforcing clean water standards.

"In each of the Bush administration's EPA budgets, funding for enforcement has been targeted for significant cuts that would mean fewer inspections and more pollution," the consumer advocacy group US PIRG said. "Fortunately, Congress has restored some money to the agency's enforcement activities. Incredibly, the agency is once again proposing to cut those funds. The agency proposes to cut funding for clean water programs under their Science and Technology budget as well as under Environmental Programs and Management — a difference between FY02 and FY04 of $77 million."

Despite criticisms from water quality advocates and public interest groups, EPA maintains this year's budget will help reduce what the agency calls "serious water pollution and drinking water problems" that still exist.

Meanwhile, resolution of the stalled FY 03 budget was expected by late February. The House proposal includes $1.3 billion for the CWSRF and $850 million for the drinking water revolving fund. The Senate proposal, passed last year when the chamber was still in Democratic hands, adds $150 million more than the House for CWSRF and $25 million more for drinking water.

AMSA calls on Congress to expand water funding

The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies called on Congress to expand funding for infrastructure despite growing fiscal challenges to domestic spending anticipated this year.

"AMSA calls on Congress and the President to act swiftly on this vital, bipartisan issue and pass legislation to finance a long-term, sustainable, and reliable source of funding for clean water, focusing on critical 'core' infrastructure needs," the group said.

The association made that statement at a multi-stakeholder meeting, titled "Closing the Gap: Innovative Responses for Sustainable Water Infrastructure." An EPA report released last year estimated there is a water and wastewater infrastructure funding gap of as much as $500 billion. AMSA, along with the stakeholder coalition the Water Infrastructure Network (WIN), maintains the US faces a "massive" funding shortfall for the nation's clean and safe water infrastructure.

AMSA told federal regulators that it believes that the only viable solution is a federally backed, long-term, sustainable funding source.

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