|WASHINGTON - The Bush administration Monday proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget by nearly 6 percent to $7.57 billion in fiscal 2006 by targeting a program that helps cities replace aging sewage systems.|
The EPA said the requested reduction 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 defended the plan as "a strong request that allows us to keep up the pace of environmental protections" and said the cuts were part of the administration's larger deficit-cutting plan. The White House is facing a record federal budget deficit.
Most of the EPA cut proposed for 2006 is from a reduction in funding for a revolving fund that states use to upgrade sewage and septic systems, and storm-water run-off projects. Funding for the fund fell $361 million, or 33 percent, in the Bush administration budget proposal.
Environmental groups say cities need the loans and grants to replace and upgrade aging sewage systems, some of which are over a century old.
"This year's cuts are really bad for clean water," said Rob Perks at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But the lower request actually offsets higher funds appropriated by Congress in 2004 and 2005, which will maintain the total commitment to the program of $6.8 billion through 2011, an EPA spokeswoman said. "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 also would increase by $47 million funding to clean up 600 toxic "brownfield" sites and add $28 million to remove toxic sediments from the Great Lakes.
Money for 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 on Oct. 1.
Story by Chris Baltimore
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE