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January 1996 Oral Testimony of Administrator Carol M. Browner in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee on FY 1996 EPA Budget

Mr. Chairman and Sen. Mikulski, I welcome this opportunity to come before you once again to discuss EPA's budget for this year. I appreciate the efforts you have made to ensure an adequate level of funding for EPA, but I continue to have grave concerns about our ability under the 1996 appropriations bill to protect the health of the people of this country and the air, the water, and the land we all must share. Mr. Chairman, you, Sen. Mikulski, and your staff have improved the funding level over the draconian reductions contained in the House proposal. However, the final conference bill is not adequate to protect public health and our environment. That is why the President vetoed this bill. The shutdowns, the continuing resolutions, the starts and stops, have already taken a toll on public health and environmental protection. Unfortunately, the conference bill does not allow us to overcome the problems created thus far in this fiscal year and is inadequate to the challenges we face. The bill's harmful cuts would let polluters off the hook, slow cleanups of toxic waste sites, and lower our guard against drinking water contamination and raw sewage in rivers and beaches.

Taken together, the months of disruption and the conference bill mean that our air, our water, our land will not be as safe. Among the impacts:

  1. Significant reductions in environmental inspections and enforcement actions.
  2. Significant delays in efforts to protect our drinking water, including work to protect tap water from contaminants like cryptosporidium.
  3. Reductions in resources for the wastewater treatment program, which provides dollars to communities to keep raw sewage out of rivers and beaches.
  4. Delays in toxic waste cleanups in communities across the country.
  5. Limitations on the public's right to know about toxic chemicals in their communities.
  6. Reduction in safety review and registration of pesticides, including safer alternatives to help farmers.
  7. Delays in important standards to control toxic air pollution and industrial discharges to our rivers and streams, as well as other regulations that would protect the public and cut paperwork for business.
  8. Delays in scientific research needed to write standards to protect the public's health.

During this time of disruption, we at EPA have sought to balance our commitments. We have sought to implement and enforce our nation's environmental laws. We have sought to continue our efforts to cut red tape and change the process of environmental regulation. We have worked very hard to provide our state partners with consistent technical and funding support. But it is increasingly difficult and in some areas now impossible to do our job.

The cuts outlined in the conference bill will also exact a serious human toll on EPA's dedicated workforce and on our private-sector contractors. Together, these individuals perform much of this country's environmental protection work. As soon as the House released its proposed funding levels for the Agency last July, we moved immediately to take prudent management actions -- a hiring freeze, a promotion freeze, the indefinite postponement of many contracts. The EPA workforce of today is 1500 people smaller than in July -- already, we have experienced an 8reduction in our workforce. As a result of the uncertainty and the cutbacks, bright, dedicated young people are leaving the Agency. These are employees who are essential to our efforts to effect common-sense changes in environmental regulation. The life blood of the Agency is being drained.
All of us at EPA, our private sector partners, and Members of Congress alike recognize the challenges that we face in an era of reduced federal resources. But within this era of limited federal resources, we must protect our health -- the health of our families, the health of our communities, and the health of our economy.

The President has proposed a plan to balance the budget while protecting public health and our environment. As I testified here last February, the President's budget for EPA supports sound, strategic investments that will enable us to take the common-sense, cost-effective, consensus-based actions that will work for real people in real communities -- to achieve the very best environmental results at the least cost. I stand ready to work with you, Mr. Chairman, and with the subcommittee, to reach an agreement that will enable us to protect the American public and to meet the challenge that President Clinton put forward in his State of the Union Address: to " . . .leave our environment safe and clean for the next generation."

I am happy to answer any questions.