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Obama proposing clean-water cuts amid Flint outcry

The Obama administration is expected to propose a $250 million cut to its primary funding source for water and sewer systems as part of its budget proposal Tuesday — a prospect that is bringing bipartisan criticism amid the furor over lead contamination in Flint, Mich.

The budget calls for adding $158 million to an Environmental Protection Agency program that offers grants and low-interest loans to help states and cities improve their drinking water systems, according to a source familiar with the proposal. But it would pay for that by making even larger cuts to an EPA clean water program that helps reduce pollution at the source, a trade-off that lawmakers on both sides call foolish.

"We cannot take money away from the fund that cleans up the polluted Flint River — the source of Flint’s drinking water — and put it into fixing Flint’s pipes," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who called himself "grossly disappointed" by the proposal. Cardin noted that the administration's expected request for drinking water spending is lower than what President Barack Obama sought last year, even if it's more than what Congress wound up providing.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, accused Obama of making clean drinking water a lesser priority than climate change, a frequent complaint of Republican lawmakers about Obama's EPA budget proposals.

“It took the media bringing to light the crisis in Flint, Michigan for the president to become concerned with the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund," Inhofe said in a statement, referring to the program that Obama is proposing to increase. "Every year previous, the president’s budget proposal has sought to short change this fund while increasing funding for subsidies for his corporate friends that share his global warming views."