The government's air and water pollution control, strip-mining enforcement, and toxic chemical regulation have emerged from the budget battle unscathed, thanks to a selective cutback of major construction programs at the interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Administration sources aid yesterday that the president's fiscal 1980 budget, to be released Jan. 22, shows an increase in EPA's operating budget from $1.2 billion in fiscal 1979 to $1.3 billion, despite Carter's austerity program. The agency's construction grants program, which allocates sewer plant funds to the states, will be cut from this fiscal year's $4.2 billion to $3.8 billion.
The Interior Department's overall budget not counting mineral royalties and other receipts, will decrease from $4.6 billion in fiscal '79 to $4.4 billion in '80, reflecting significant cuts in the land and water conservation fund, which includes state recreation grants and park acquisition money, as well as an early phaseout of the drilling program in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
However, the new surface-mining program, designed to enforce the new law requiring the restoration of stripmining land, will maintain a steady level of funding, sources said.
Interviews with officials in both agencies turned up few major complaints. An Interior budget officer commented, "You can tell it's a tight year, but I'd say we're no worse off than other people." At EPA, where officials have been grumbling about interference from White House inflation fighters, the consensus was that current programs fared pretty well.
The slowdown in sewage construction grants indicates a lengthening of the 10-year timetable originally promised by the president for the $45 billion program, the nation's largest public works activity. However, it reflects difficulty the agency has had in allocating the money fast enough.
EPA's $310 million research budget would be increased by $35 million in fiscal '80, of which $15 million will be for studies on the effects of toxic chemicals. The budget for the general toxics program, designed to keep track of an explosion of cancer-causing chemicals in the environment, would be increased from $41 million in fiscal '79 to $65 million for fiscal '80.
"The construction programs were cut so we would avoid cutting air and water pollution, surface mining, toxics and other programs where public health is involved," one administration official said.
In Interior, the cut of roughly $100 million from the $729 million land and water conservation fund could mean less money for state recreation programs; fewer tourist facilities in national parks and a slowdown in the purchase of private land within federal parks. Significant cuts were also made in general construction budgets for parks and wildlife refuges.
Although environmentalists would have liked to see major cuts in the construction budgets of ongoing water projects, the administration is wary of antagonizing Congress. "There will be no new hit list," one official said.
However, the 1980 Interior and Army Corps of Engineers' budgets include about $500 million for 16 new water projects, all budgeted at full funding-a point of contention with Congress, which fears it will lose control over the pace of outlays.
The budget also reflects an increase in national park fees-at the instence of the Office of Management and Budget. Entrance fees to major parks could rise from $2 to $3 per person, and new charges would be levied for camping and transportation, an Interior official said.
The 1980 budgdet, according to OMB Associated Director Eliot Cutler, was subjected to a new process through which programs in different agencies were directly compared, thus resulting, for example, in trade-offs between Interior and EPA, Agriculture and Defense and other agencies to determine overall priorities.