President Clinton will propose spending 12 percent more for environmental protection next year, senior administration officials said Tuesday, signaling a pronounced turn in his commitment to environmental issues as he is imposing budget-balancing restraints on other domestic spending.
The increase, included in the fiscal 1998 budget proposal Clinton will announce Thursday, is likely to draw opposition from congressional Republicans. At the same time, it risks setting off a feud between Democrats who favor environmental programs and those who oppose new constraints on funding for housing, job training and other social programs.
“Discretionary programs are way down across the board,” said one White House aide. “Environment and education are the main exceptions.”
After a first term in which environmentalists often expressed disappointment with the administration, Clinton is now proposing more funding for the Super-fund toxic waste cleanup program by as much as $700 million. He is also seeking more money for safe drinking water programs and two other environmental initiatives on pesticide controls and food safety, the officials said Tuesday.
“We must protect our environment in every community,” Clinton said in his State of the Union message Tuesday night. “In the last four years, we cleaned up 250 toxic waste sites, as many as in the previous 12. Now we should clean up 500 more of them, so that our children grow up next to parks, not poison.”
In his speech, the president also said he would begin a program to help communities clean up riverfronts and cut pollution in rivers. But any money for the program would be shifted from other environmental efforts, an aide said.
All told, the Environmental Protection Agency would receive an increase of approximately $800 million beyond the $6.7 billion in its current budget.
The increases are mainly in programs to combat pollution and to some governing public lands.
The budget plan sets Clinton apart from congressional Republicans by increasing spending for programs they have opposed in the past, particularly the Superfund campaign.
Federal spending on the environment became a central element in the clash between the White House and the Republican majority in Congress during the winter of 1995-96 that led to the shutdown of the government.