Clinton's Environmental Budget Brings Smiles to `Green' Groups

Wetlands, energy saving, and endangered species receive big boost

DURING his first year in office, President Clinton had a rocky relationship with environmentalists. To many of them, he seemed tentative, too willing to bow to special interests (other special interests, that is), or just not interested in what they wanted.

And as for environmental spending, Mr. Clinton was seen as a miser. The League of Conservation Voters recently gave him a D+ in this regard, citing his parsimoniousness with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But the ``green'' hue to Clinton's proposed budget for fiscal year 1995 has brought smiles to environmental lobbyists and members of the organizations they represent.

``He's increasing the good stuff, he's cutting the bad stuff, and he's produced the most comprehensive and honest look at the environmental budget we've ever seen from any president,'' says Ralph De Gennaro, senior budget analyst with Friends of the Earth. ``This is an earth budget. We're very impressed.''

While the overall Clinton budget calls for a modest 2.36 percent increase, proposed spending for environment and natural resource programs would rise by 5 percent. And within that 5 percent increase are some larger numbers that environmentalists see as particularly important.

``Where they have had to make tough choices ... they have generally increased allocations to what we consider priority programs,'' said Peter Berle, president of the National Audubon Society.

The EPA's operating budget would go up 13 percent under the Clinton proposal, including hikes of 34 percent for environmental technology and 25 percent for grants to restore watersheds.

While generals and admirals at the Pentagon tighten their belts, Defense Department spending to clean up military bases goes up 14 percent. While nuclear-bomb makers at the Energy Department face significant cuts, spending for renewable energy would go up 14 percent and energy conservation programs 50 percent.

At the Agriculture Department, research for sustainable farming gets a 19 percent boost and spending to preserve wetlands goes up a whopping 322 percent. The budget for ``Mission to Planet Earth,'' the environmental research satellite program under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, will go up 21 percent. The Interior Department gets a 37 percent increase on spending to protect endangered species.

But environmentalists are unhappy about the proposed spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is used to expand parks and refuges. Clinton's request for next year stays at the 1994 level, and it's actually less than the Bush administration sought in its last year.

Environmentalists also are dubious about administration plans to raise grazing fees and mining royalties on federal lands. ``Who knows what sort of trading will go on in Congress,'' says Wilderness Society spokesman Ben Beach.

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