President Bush's new budget gives states more responsibility to protect the environment and conserve natural resources, but state officials say it fails to give them much new cash to get the job done. State officials say they'd like more support from an administration that would scale back the federal regulatory role if Bush has his way.
The president's budget "has some good news and some not so good news. There are a number of tradeoffs," said Christophe Tulou, who directs intergovernmental affairs for the Environmental Council of the States ( ECOS ), the national organization of state and territorial environmental directors. "You've got a wonderful $450 million initiative for combined sewer outflows (CSOs)," money intended to prevent the discharge of untreated wastewater from old systems into nearby lakes and streams during storms. "Unfortunately, $450 million is taken out of the state water quality revolving funds in order to take care of that," Tulou said.One effect of the administration's CSO proposal would be to favor small towns in the Northeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest where most of the outdated sewers are located at the expense of overall water quality efforts there and in other regions.
Environmental groups, who have long criticized states' readiness to enforce air, water and waste regulations and protect land resources, wildlife and public health, say the Bush plan is unquestionably "bad news."
"The [president's] budget would cripple the [Environmental Protection Agency's] ability to enforce the safeguards that protect our families from pollution, and hand an even greater portion of this important responsibility to a patchwork quilt of state agencies that have mixed records on cracking down on polluters," said Amy Maron of the Sierra Club's environmental quality program.
The Bush budget cuts environmental spending in several agencies working through or with the states, including $500 million cut in EPA funding and a $788 million overall reduction for conservation agencies in the Agriculture Department. The U.S. Geological Survey, a division of the Department of the Interior, will lose over $30 million for vital water quality assessments.
"USGS has just been a critically important partner in providing as much of a factual basis as we have for making some of our key water decisions, both in terms of supply and quality," said Tulou, who served under former Delaware Gov. Tom Carper (D) as secretary of natural resources and environmental control.
One bright spot for conservation interests came in the administration's $900 million request for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the nation's savings account for the purchase of land for parks and wildlife refuges. States would receive an unprecedented $450 million for land acquisitions under the Bush plan.
But environmentalists like Roger Schlickeisen of Defenders of Wildlife say this is little more than "sleight of hand" that fails to offset reductions in other conservation programs.
On the regulatory side, the Bush plan amounts to a deeper investment in the states' roles as frontline assessors, investigators and enforcers of environmental protections.A forthcoming ECOS study shows that states already perform 90 percent of all current enforcement actions. As of 1998, the states had assumed responsibility for roughly three-quarters of the programs that EPA may delegate to them, state analysts say.
EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman says her agency's proposed budget includes $3.3 billion for grants, $2.1 billion of which would go to state water infrastructure programs.
Among these grants are a pair of new $25 million appropriations for enforcement and data collection. Tulou says that "$25 million compared to whatever states are spending collectively is going to be pretty small," released in May 2000.
This year as many as 19 states are tightening their belts and many more are bracing for the possibility, with slower revenue growth and continued Medicaid overruns ushering in the lean times in many cases. State analysts caution that when states look around for fat to trim, environmental programs may be among the first to get the ax."In a tight budget situation, health and education are going to cut out everything else. There could be a drop in environmental funding," says William Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures .
Around the country, states have already had to shift priorities.