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Many Science, Health and Environmental Groups Critical of Proposed US Budget

The $2.5 trillion federal budget unveiled by the Bush Administration this month proposes cuts in federal spending for a wide range of domestic and international programs. Funding for science and technology remained flat, while the budgets for environment and public health were especially hard hit.

The U.S. science community is expressing disappointment with the proposal. "The cuts are falling pretty much across the board on the domestic side of the budgets," says Kei Koizumi, who directs the research and development policy program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the country's leading private scientific organizations.

"So we are seeing cuts to environmental R&D [research and development] programs, to agricultural research programs," Mr. Koizumi says. "On the defense side we are seeing proposed cuts in defense funding in basic and applied research. And, even in the area of space, NASA's ambitions to go to the Moon and Mars don't leave enough money to fund environmental or biological research."

NASA's reordered priorities will also kill the Hubble Space telescope, although lawmakers continue to support a mission to repair it. Elsewhere in the federal science budget, the National Institutes of Health receive a slight increase. But critics complain the raise does not keep pace with inflation and will require cuts to many services and programs.

The environment appears to be one of the biggest losers in the 2006 budget. "If you look at total domestic spending...that's excluding money for defense, for the war in Iraq, for homeland security...those programs are only nicked by a small one percent reduction," notes Wesley Warren, Deputy Director for Advocacy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Environmental programs, which are in that pot, however, were slated for a 10% reduction."

Mr. Warren says funding for the Environmental Protection Agency would decline by 6% over all, with state and local water programs cut by one third. "This loss in funding would directly translate into projects that are on the drawing board that would have to be scrapped or postponed," says Mr Warren, including projects "that would make sure that sewage is not dumped into our rivers or waterways."

He warns that clean air programs are also threatened. "We should be making a greater commitment in this country to clean energy technologies like solar or biomass and energy efficiency," he says. "And, yet they have all been put back on the chopping block."

Belt tightening is proposed, as well, for the U.S. Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. The budget calls for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for gas exploration and oil drilling. Revenues would be reinvested in conservation research.

Other science analysts are less critical of the budget -- including Angela Logomasini, an environmental policy expert for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The research group promotes limited government and market-based solutions to environmental problems. Ms. Logomasini says the proposed funding cuts are not as draconian as some environmental activists contend. "There is a lot we can reduce," she says, by looking for ways "to make the budget more efficient, and find ways to give states and local governments more affordable ways of meeting federal mandates."

Ms. Logomasini argues that throwing federal money at problems doesn't always yield solutions. "The amount of good that EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) can do per dollar is probably lower than allowing those dollars to be in the marketplace," she says. "It is not necessarily bigger government that [produces] a safer and healthier world. I would argue that more limited government -- more state and local approaches -- will probably be more efficient and probably healthier."

In a reflection of the Bush Administration's homeland security agenda, federal funding is slated to rise for environmental programs with ties to the war on terror. New funds are proposed for water contamination monitoring, water decontamination research and the safe building program.

In addition, four major U.S. waterways are scheduled for remediation. Increased funds are targeted to clean up abandoned industrial sites. And more money is earmarked to reduce toxic mercury emissions, curb pollution from diesel engines and promote hydrogen fuel technology

Environmentalists applaud these efforts, but fear that Congress, faced with shrinking funds, will give in to the Administration's proposed cuts. Debate on budget choices will continue over the next several months. Lawmakers must approve the funding plan by October 1.