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Death by a Thousand (Budget) Cuts

We avoided a government shutdown with last minute deals that seemed to please both parties. But as they often say here in Washington, D.C. “the devil is in the details.” And in this case, it’s an awfully vicious budget slashing devil that has emerged in those details.

According to the Wall Street Journal, (subscription required) even though the GOP didn’t get the big ticket budget cuts to major EPA efforts to curb global warming pollution, clean up mercury from cement kilns, and cut asthma-causing pollution from big industrial polluters like power plants and incinerators, they did get an overall reduction in the EPA’s budget by 16 percent from 2010 spending. That’s a major cut that will certainly hamper the agency’s ability to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The Journal wrote:

Most of the EPA cuts will reduce aid to help states implement health and environmental-protection laws. Mr. Obama had proposed cutting those programs, but only by about $200 million. 'These federal cuts make our job to provide a clean environment that much harder,' said R. Steven Brown, the agency's executive director, who said the practical effect would be to derail roughly $1 billion in improvements to sewage-treatment and drinking-water plants.

The deal also cuts by $149 million, or 33 percent, a federal fund for buying land for environmental purposes. Programs related to climate change would be cut by $49 million, or 13 percent.

Of course, there was the terrible move of legislating endangered species delisting, as noted by my colleague Raviya Ismail yesterday. Congress set the horrible precedent that it—rather than scientists—can now determine when a species (in this case, the endangered Gray Wolf) can come off the endangered species list.

While the GOP didn’t get all of their demands, it’s the old tactic of asking for the sun and settling for the moon. These small budget cuts—a few percent here, a few percent there—will eventually lead to big changes in how the EPA can save lives by keeping dangerous pollution out of our air and water.

Tags:  Congress