Bush’s Budget Fails to Protect Consumers’ Critical Resources: Energy, Food and Water

Feb. 7, 2005

Bush’s Budget Fails to Protect Consumers’ Critical Resources: Energy, Food and Water

Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Bush’s budget proposal will do little to protect the health and safety of consumers in three critical areas: energy, food and water. These are essential resources that every citizen must be able to afford, have access to, and most importantly, know are clean and protected.

Energy

In the fiscal year 2006 budget released today, Bush requested $651 million for Yucca Mountain, which is $74 million more than the program received last year. This is indefensible given the myriad problems of the nuclear waste dump project. Further, Bush is asking that nuclear power user fees be reclassified as “offset collections.” (Since 1982, nuclear power utility consumers have paid fees to the Nuclear Waste Fund to pay for the establishment of a national high-level nuclear waste repository.)   Reclassifying the fund is simply a budgetary gimmick that obscures the fund’s impact on the country’s massive budget deficit.

In addition to Yucca funding, Bush is asking taxpayers to further subsidize nuclear power – a failed technology for consumers and the environment. The administration is seeking $56 million for the Nuclear Power 2010 program, in which taxpayers pay half the cost of applying for licenses to site and build new nuclear reactors. Last year, Bush requested $10 million, but thanks to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), the program received $50 million. Similarly, Bush is requesting $45 million for Generation IV, a U.S. Department of Energy program to develop new “inherently safe” reactor designs; last year, he requested $30.5 million, but again thanks to Domenici, the program received $40 million.

Bush’s budget will also seek to raise the inexpensive electricity rates charged by the federally owned and operated Power Marketing Administration – a sop to more expensive corporate-owned power and a first step to privatizing these public resources. These federal power agencies supply large parts of the country with inexpensive electricity generated mostly from hydroelectric dams. It is no secret that corporate‑owned utilities, which nationally charge prices more than 8 percent higher than publicly owned or cooperative power, seek to control these cheap sources of power. The result is usually higher rates for consumers and bigger profits for the companies.

Food

The proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) calls for $139 million of the funding for meat inspection to come from “user fees” paid by the meat industry at plants operating more than eight hours a day. Allowing the industry to fund the regulators who oversee them sets a dangerous precedent and sets the stage for conditions that could compromise the effectiveness of inspectors. In fact, the USDA has “de-listed” plants in other countries from being eligible to export to the United States because the industry funds their government meat inspection programs.

It is senseless to implement a policy in this country that we oppose elsewhere. Unfortunately, the proposed budget leaves very little wiggle room for the agency to avoid accepting industry user fees. Congress should reject these fees and instead appropriate adequate funding for FSIS operations.

In addition to the proposed user fees, the budget eliminates the 63 FSIS personnel dedicated to humane slaughter regulations and assigns them to general inspection duties.

Water

With crumbling infrastructures nationwide, we are in desperate need of funding to maintain and improve the safety and accessibility of our public water supply. There is a very real funding gap for water and wastewater systems in the United States. By some estimates, it will cost $20 billion annually for the next 20 years to build, repair and maintain systems in this country.

But the Bush budget allocates only $730 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Funds, which is $360 million less than Congress appropriated in FY05. Further, Bush requested $850 million – slightly less than was appropriated last year – for the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which provides grants to states to help improve drinking water systems and infrastructure.

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