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Environmental program cuts prompt debate

The budget, however, calls for some $50 million to be allocated to states for enforcement and for environmental assessments. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman says states will be better able to enforce environmental rules according to their individual priorities.

Some Department of the Interior programs affecting agriculture were also cut, while others received increases. Overall, the agency’s budget request is $345.7 million below what Interior Secretary Gale Norton termed “historically high, unprecedented fiscal 2001,” but she noted much of the difference was represented in fighting forest fires that ravaged much of the West last year. “When compared to historic levels, the fiscal 2002 budget request continues funding for Interior programs at a rate of growth substantially higher than the rate of inflation,” she said.

While the president said the budget, which was submitted after Congress left Washington on recess, would eliminate wasteful spending and accomplish greater efficiencies in government programs, environmental groups cried foul and Democrat leaders lambasted it.

“This budget wasn’t just dead on arrival — it was dead before arrival,” declared Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. Even many Republicans have indicated they will not support the president’s deep cuts in agriculture, environment, and energy programs.

The Bush budget would:

— Halt any funds for implementation of the Kyoto treaty that calls for reductions in so-called “greenhouse gas” emissions that have been blamed for global warming. Although the U.S. was a signatory to the treaty under the Clinton Administration, President Bush has announced his intention to withdraw.

— Cut funding on global warming research from $1.8 billion in the current year to $1.6 billion.

— Cut natural resources/environment programs from $28.7 billion currently to $26.4 billion in fiscal 2002. Affected would be clean water/clean air protection programs, pesticide programs, waste management, pollution programs, land conservation, and national park/forest programs. The popular Wetlands Reserve Program administered by the USDA, funded at $162 million in fiscal 2001, would be zeroed out. Approximately one million acres of wetlands have been enrolled in the protection program over its 11-year life.

— Slash 34 percent from a $161 million program to save habitat of the endangered Pacific salmon, cut $29 million from a $51 million program to acquire sensitive lands, and reduce the Historic Preservation Fund from $106 million to $74 million.

— Cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by $500 million, to $7.3 billion, compared to the current year. The agency would have spending cuts in eight of the 10 areas it regulates, for an overall decline of 6 percent from fiscal 2000.

— Reduce Interior Department spending by $200 million to $10 billion.

While environmental groups charge that the Bush budget proposes substantial reductions in core environmental programs, the president contends it will streamline processes and allow the government to accomplish more, while allowing states a greater role in many programs.

And EPA’s Whitman notes that the proposed budget for the agency will still be “the second highest in the history of this agency.”

“A nasty shock for farmers and ranchers,” is how the American Farmland Trust characterized the Bush budget proposal.

“It would drastically cut funding for agriculture conservation and farmland protection efforts,” said Ralph Grossi, AFT president. “Programs to be zeroed out include those that offer farmers incentives to protect water supplies, create wildlife habitat on farmland, and permanently protect their farmland from sprawling development.”

Ann Sorensen, head of research at AFT’s Center for Agriculture in the Environment, said “America’s farmers aim to be good stewards, but we can’t tell they must carry the entire burden of providing environmental benefits for all of us.”

The programs being cut — including the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and others — comprised less than 4 percent of total farm spending in fiscal 2001, she notes, yet farmer requests for participation were so numerous that three of every four applications were turned down.

“At a time when the world is getting a much clearer view of the many links between good conservation practices, food, farmland, and quality of life, funding these conservation programs is more important than ever,” Sorensen said.

Interior Secretary Norton said, however, that the fiscal 2002 budget for her department “makes good on President Bush’s pledge for full funding of the Land & Water Conservation Fund,” which will provide $900 million, split equally between federal agencies and state governments. States will have more flexibility to target funds to local priorities, she said.

The $450 million to the states would represent an increase of $359.7 million over fiscal 2001, she noted, and funds could be used to acquire traditional recreational lands, as well as for endangered and threatened species conservation and wetlands restoration.

For the first time, Norton noted, the budget includes funding for two grant programs to provide incentives to private landowners to conserve habitat and become partners in restoring threatened, endangered, and at-risk species. The Landowner Incentive Program would provide $50 million for matching grants to states to be used on a competitively awarded, cost-share basis to provide technical/financial assistance to landowners voluntarily participating in protection of habitat for federally-listed or at-risk species on private or tribal lands. Landowners could continue traditional land use practices while protecting species and habitat.

Another $10 million would be used for a private stewardship grant program to help individuals or groups involved in voluntary protection or conservation of wildlife habitat on private lands.

“These innovative partnerships will help erase the conflict that too often paralyzes efforts to save threatened species,” Norton said. “Farmers, ranchers, and other landowners are often the best stewards of the land, and we can achieve more by working with them, and capitalizing on their intimate knowledge of the land they depend on and love.”

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