Cutting corners on the environment

We should take steps to strengthen ineffec-tive environmental programs, not cut them.

It is clear that President George W. Bush’s governmental belt-tightening budget proposal will limit funding for many government programs and agencies. As a near-record deficit looms, Bush and company are pushing to reverse some of the spending damage done during the last four years – and one of their targets is the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s budget is steadily declining: In 2004, it received $8.4 billion, which declined to $8 billion this fiscal year. Bush’s request brings it down 6 percent further to $7.57 billion for 2006. This cut targets a program that helps cities replace outdated sewage systems. EPA officials seem just fine with this, while other environmental groups claim the cuts will make our nation’s water worse.

While it is irritating that the EPA’s budget keeps getting cut in the first place, at least it is not the only agency to feel the strain – and to get ourselves out of the red, everyone must share the burden. In Bush’s defense, it appears the lost program was not meant to be permanent anyway.

On the plus side, this year’s EPA budget allocates more money to clean up toxic “brownfield” sites and toxic materials in the Great Lakes. Superfund, which also cleans up toxic waste sites, is allotted an increase that brings its budget up to $1.28 billion.

Still, the administration’s lack of concern for environmental issues in general cannot be ignored. The Orwellianly named and bogus “Clear Skies” initiative plans to deface pristine wilderness areas in favor of drilling for oil, and other underfunded cleanup programs serve as evidence of its indifference.

With his dismal environmental record, the president should not expect to receive much praise for further slashing the EPA’s budget. The administration’s plan to cut “ineffective” government programs should not be aimed at things that help keep our air, water and land healthy – and if indeed those programs are ineffective, then the focus should be on making them effective, not removing them entirely.

The EPA plays an important role in our nation’s environmental health, and none of it should be compromised by fiscal woes at the hands of an unconcerned president.