NTEU Views on EPA Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2003


Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, HUD, and Independent Agencies

Chairwoman Mikulski, Ranking Member Bond, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, my name is Colleen Kelley, and I am the National President of the National Treasury Employees Union. NTEU represents more than 150,000 federal employees, including employees who work at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I appreciate this opportunity to present testimony to you today on behalf of the men and women who work to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for all Americans.

The past seven months have been a very trying time for the American public. Never before has it been so clear how vulnerable our nation is to such a wide variety of attacks. And never before has the need to invest in a highly trained, highly skilled, dedicated federal workforce been so clear. If any American didn’t appreciate the national value of our federal employees before the tragic events of September 11th, then they sure recognize their work now. Our nation depends on these patriots who work for the federal government.

That is why it is incumbent upon Congress and the Administration to ensure that the dedicated employees who perform these vital functions for America day in and day out – during times of war and times of peace – have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. The men and women who work at the EPA have always played a key role in our nation’s homeland security in defending the American public against threats to our water supply system, air pollution, and contaminated lands. And as you know, EPA was responsible for supervising the cleanup of anthrax-contaminated congressional buildings and EPA is working to develop new cleanup technologies in the event of future attacks by bioterrorists.

The employees at the EPA are working to reduce the health risks to the American public through the enforcement of our environmental laws, the cleanup of contaminated lands and waterways, and the development of new scientifically sound environmental standards. If we want to continue our nation’s progress in cleaning up our environment, then Congress must work to ensure the EPA gets the staffing and resources the agency needs to effectively carry out its mission. Unfortunately, the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2003 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency falls far short. The Administration’s budget severely undercuts current EPA operations and fails to provide funding to support efforts to combat future environmental threats.

The Administration has requested $300 million – or four percent – less than what was appropriated for EPA in Fiscal Year 2002. Furthermore, EPA’s budget request of $7.7 billion is misleading since a large portion of the funding is attributed to a budget gimmick suggested by the Administration, that would, for the first time, require agencies to pre-fund future retiree health and retirement costs from current appropriations. So the real budget cut for EPA operations is greater than what the budget request may lead you to believe. Fortunately, both the House and Senate Budget Committees rejected the Administration’s retiree cost proposal. The House declined to include this proposal in its FY 03 Budget Resolution unless, and until, the appropriate authorizing committees make this change in law. And the Senate Budget Resolution contains no change at all. Congress should not be misled about the impact these new creative accounting procedures being used by the Office of Management and Budget will have on operations at the EPA and other agencies. In the long-term, agency budgets will shrink to accommodate the costs of the retiree and health care programs.

What is most troubling about the Administration’s budget for the EPA are the cuts to the workforce. For example, the budget proposes cutting staff at the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance by 146 full time positions. This cut comes despite a report from the General Accounting Office last year which found that a similar cut proposed by the Administration in the Fiscal Year 2002 budget would have impaired the agency’s enforcement of environmental laws.

The Administration’s budget also slashes funding for clean water initiatives by $524 million, provides less than a one percent increase for clean air programs, and even cuts EPA’s Science and Technology Account, the agency’s primary stream of funding to support scientific and technological research into how best to protect the health of American families.

Environmental protection and enforcement programs take severe hits under the Administration’s budget. While the budget request for these programs remains essentially flat, the budget proposes shifting significant enforcement authority from the federal government to the states, many of which have questionable environmental enforcement records. Shifting federal environmental protection dollars and responsibilities to the states means a diminished environmental protection role for the federal government and cuts in funding for EPA personnel responsible for civil enforcement, compliance monitoring, and incentives.

NTEU is also troubled by the Administration’s failure to reauthorize programs requiring corporate polluters to pick up the tab for the Superfund cleanup program. The Superfund trust fund, which had $3.6 billion in reserves in 1995, is nearly broke, as it will have less than $30 million in reserves in 2003. With shrinking reserves, the taxpayers will be paying for more than fifty percent of the cleanup costs of the Superfund program out of discretionary funds in Fiscal Year 2003. Unless the Administration and Congress shift the costs of maintaining the Superfund program from the taxpayers back to the polluters, as was the case up until 1995, EPA will have no choice but to stop environmental progress by slashing resources either for the Superfund program or for other critical environmental programs. Already, due to funding shortfalls, EPA is cleaning up fewer Superfund sites than were cleaned up under the Clinton Administration. 47 sites were completed in 2001 and 40 will be completely cleaned up in 2002, which is roughly half the number of sites cleaned up in each of the last four years of the Clinton Administration.

As the number and complexity of threats to our environment and to human health continue to increase, it is critical that Congress provide additional funding for EPA. We owe it to future generations of Americans to leave them with a clean environment. The professional employees at the EPA are the ones who have the expertise in these critical areas, and they are the ones who are in the best position to foster environmental progress.

The work performed by the men and women at the EPA is often taken for granted. Yet thanks to the efforts of EPA employees, we are reducing air pollution, improving the quality of our drinking water systems, and allowing Americans to live longer and healthier lives. EPA scientists, analysts, lawyers, and others who have dedicated their lives to serving the public continue to work to find the most cost effective and most efficient solutions to addressing our country's greatest environmental threats. In order to continue this progress, NTEU urges this Subcommittee to provide EPA with the staffing and resources required to do its job.

I would like to thank this Subcommittee for giving NTEU the opportunity to present our views on the EPA budget for Fiscal Year 2003.