WASHINGTON -- Several environmentalist groups yesterday publicly went on the attack against President Clinton for the first time for failing to include enough money in his budget to clean up the nation's water.

Cities and towns eventually must build between $400 billion and $500 billion of water cleanup facilities to be in compliance with the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, but Clinton is proposing to provide less than $4 billion a year in federal aid, according to a report released jointly by the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Water Education Council.

The council is an umbrella group comprising municipal organizations and some environmental groups.

The reports estimates that Clinton's policies would produce a funding gap of about $7 billion a year in view of the estimated $20 billion a year of water infrastructure facilities that must be financed under the environmental laws.

The President's budget plan proposes to put only $2 billion a year into the Clean Water Act state revolving funds -- less than the peak of $2.5 billion reached under former President Bush.

In addition, the administration's infrastructure plans suffered a blow this spring with the defeat of Clinton's job stimulus bill, which included $850 million for the revolving funds. Despite the urging of the White House, lawmakers refused to revive any of the lost water funding in a supplemental spending bill recently approved by Congress.

While Clinton's proposed budget includes an initiative to finance the construction of drinking water facilities for the first time through a new system of state revolving funds, it would allot only an average of $900 million a year to the program.

When combined with another $1 billion a year of direct aid to small, rural communities, and the $9 billion spent yearly on water infrastructure by state and local governments, that still leaves a sizable funding shortfall, the report says.

"We are now in an era where no member of Congress and no member of the Clinton administration can wear the mantle of ~environmentalist' without accepting the fact that our federal clean water laws must be accompanied by sufficient federal funding," said Jonathan C. Kaledin of the water council.

Kaledin called on Clinton to support legislation that has gained bipartisan backing in Congress to increase funding for the state revolving funds to $5 billion a year from $2 billion.

"Without increased federal spending, either the burden of these enormous costs will be carried by water and sewer users through skyrocketing rates, or the projects won't get built," he said.

Administration officials point say the higher funding targets may be unrealistic, given the tight discretionary spending caps that Congress is enacting this year as part of the budget package.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.