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Congressional Democrats' Hearing on FY 1996 EPA Budget

                         Carol M. Browner

Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Congressional Democrats' Hearing on FY 1996 EPA Budget

                         Washington, D.C.

                      Prepared for Delivery
                       February 26, 1996

Congressman Miller, Congressman Brown, Congressman Pallone, and Members of the Democratic Task Force on the Environment, I welcome this opportunity to come before you.

Twenty-five years ago, the people of this country -- Democrats, Republicans, and independents -- joined together to say: "We must stop the pollution. We must save our natural heritage."

Together, we made tremendous progress. Today we no longer have rivers catching on fire. Millions of Americans are breathing cleaner air. Hundreds of toxic dump sites have been cleaned up. We've banned DDT. We've protected millions of children from lead poisoning. We cut toxic emissions from factories in half.

The Clinton Administration has continued that proud history of progress. Today, 50 million more Americans in 55 cities are breathing cleaner air -- air that meets public health standards. Under this Administration we can point to the biggest drop in toxic air pollution in U.S. history. In just three years, we have cleaned up more toxic waste sites than in the previous 12 years of the program.

We have expanded the public's right to know about toxic chemicals released in their neighborhoods and moved aggressively to control hazardous waste incineration and improve the safety of our drinking water.

We have challenged business to find creative new ways to exceed existing pollution standards. We have cut red tape for honest business owners -- but we have vigorously pursued those who ignore environmental standards, polluting the public's air and water.

In the San Francisco Bay Delta, in the Great Lakes, and in the Everglades, we brought people together to find smart, common-sense solutions -- solutions that work for our environment, for our economy, and for the people of this country.

But if we are to continue to make progress, Congress must act to restore the bipartisan commitment to public health and environmental protection that has served this nation so well for 25 years.

Congress must act -- because the past several months of government shutdowns and temporary funding have taken a toll on EPA's ability to protect the health of the people of this country and the air, the water, and the land we all must share.

Increasingly, it is environmental protection by triage. No longer can we guarantee that we can prevent the problems from occurring. Rather, we are left to fix problems after they happen.

During the shutdowns, environmental inspections, environmental enforcement, could not be carried out. An estimated $63 million in fines could not be collected. Superfund cleanups came to a halt. Research to protect the public from drinking water contamination stopped. Citizens' requests for information went unanswered.

And the budget cutbacks proposed by Republican Congressional leaders would continue to roll back our ability to protect the public.

Last spring, President Clinton said he would not be a party to a rollback of 25 years of environmental progress. And he has stood by that commitment. He promised to use his veto pen, and he has done so. He rejected the EPA budget put forward by the Republican leadership because it would let polluters off the hook, slow cleanups of toxic waste sites, lower our guard against drinking water contamination, and fail to keep raw sewage out of rivers and off beaches.

Make no mistake about it: the Republican leadership's budget will not allow us to do our job on behalf of the American people.

The President has proposed a plan to balance the budget while protecting public health and our environment. 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.

The President's plan will keep the environmental cop on the beat. But the Republican leadership's budget would cut enforcement of all environmental laws by 25and give special deals to special interests.

In 1994, EPA and the State of California conducted more than 2600 health and safety inspections of facilities in California. With a 25 ut, many of those inspections could not take place.

The President's plan will allow us to accelerate the cleanup of Superfund toxic waste sites and return them to productive community use. But the Republican leadership's budget would cut funding for hazardous waste cleanups -- telling communities across this country, no, we won't clean up that site. Already, we have had to halt 68 cleanups in communities across the country.

In New Jersey, 81 Superfund sites need to be cleaned up. Yet the Republican leadership's budget would cut Superfund cleanups by 25

The President's plan will provide money to local communities to protect our rivers, our beaches, and our drinking water. But Republican leaders would deny communities $712 million in funding to protect drinking water and keep raw sewage out of rivers and off beaches.

In Massachusetts, more than five million residents receive their drinking water from systems that violated public health standards in the past year. 6812f rivers and streams are too polluted for swimming and fishing. Yet the Republican leadership's budget would deny Massachusetts more than $18 million in funding to protect drinking water and protect rivers and beaches.

As a result of the uncertainty and the cutbacks, bright, dedicated young people are already leaving the Agency. These are employees who are essential to our efforts to effect common-sense changes in environmental regulation. The EPA workforce of today is 1500 people smaller than we need to fulfill our mission, and we continue to lose personnel. The life blood of the Agency is being drained.

Under the budget proposed by Republican leaders, the American people will be faced with terrible choices.

Will EPA set effective standards to control cryptosporidium and disinfection byproducts in our drinking water? Or will we set standards that would remove one billion tons of toxics and other pollutants each year from rivers and lakes -- standards to control water pollution from the pulp and paper industry, pesticide formulation and packaging, industrial waste treatment facilities, oil and gas development?

Will we strengthen our standards for protecting the public from smog and small particles of air pollution -- pollution associated with asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and premature deaths? Or will we issue new standards for industrial toxic air pollutants such as lead, mercury, and dioxin -- pollutants associated with cancer and damage to the nervous and reproductive systems?

If the American people are to receive the protection they deserve, these are choices we should not have to make. But under the Republican budget, we will have to make these choices.

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.

Protecting our environment is about protecting where we live and how we live. Our commitment cannot waver. The job is not done.

Despite the progress we have made, one American in three still lives in an area where the air does not meet federal health standards. Asthma is on the rise. One American in four lives near a toxic waste dump. Forty percent of our rivers, lakes, and streams are too polluted for fishing or swimming. Breast cancer is on the rise. The job is not done.

I stand ready to work with Congress 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."