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5 Ways EPA Budget Cuts Affect You

Former EPA senior advisor Lisa Garcia tells us what we can expect if the Trump administration guts the EPA’s budget.

Former EPA senior advisor Lisa Garcia tells us what we can expect if the Trump administration guts the EPA’s budget.

Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock

President Trump is no fan of a clean environment—a fact that is becoming all the more clear as he proposes a wide range of bills meant to water down or gut regulations that protect our environment and public health. Since his inauguration, Trump has nixed the Stream Protection Rule, attacked the Clean Water Rule and seeks to eliminate the Clean Power Plan.

Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice VP of Litigation for Healthy Communities
Lisa Garcia, Earthjustice VP of Litigation for Healthy Communities

Now, no longer content with just chopping off key environmental safeguards one by one, Trump and his administration are turning their sights on gutting the agency in charge of implementing these safeguards— the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump and new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have called for drastically slashing  the agency’s budget by 31 percent.  Earthjustice Vice President of Litigation for Healthy Communities Lisa Garcia, a former EPA senior advisor, tells us the five ways that EPA budget cuts impact all of us.

1. Our wild spaces will become less majestic — and more hazardous for our health.

Our national parks are one of America’s best ideas, yet the air within them, from the Great Smoky Mountains to Joshua Tree, is surprisingly dirty. According to a report by the National Parks Conservation Association, every one of the 48 parks it surveyed is plagued by haze and smog pollution, which largely comes from burning fossil fuels.

Even though haze pollution is one of the most pervasive and urgent threats facing our parks and those who want to enjoy them, the EPA can help restore air quality in the parks—and that’s exactly what the agency had been doing…until now. To continue clearing the air, regulations need to be strengthened and—even more importantly—enforced. That’s all less likely to happen with fewer EPA resources.


[Move
bar ↔ sideways to reveal before/after comparison.]
A hazy day in 2013 on August 20.
A clear day in 2013 on August 22.
Comparison of views of Sierra del Carmen in Mexico from Big Bend National Park in Texas.
National Park Service Photos
A clear day (left) on August 22, 2013, compared to a hazy day (right) on August 20, 2013.
Big Bend National Park, Texas

2. Our water and air will get dirtier.

Speaking of enforcement, the EPA is responsible for putting into action our bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. These regulations keep our water and air clean and safe—a value that many Americans, regardless of who they voted for in the recent election, still value highly. But in order to enforce these regulations, the EPA needs to be well staffed and have the right resources and equipment to conduct inspections and investigations. Yet Trump and his polluter allies have called for cutting the EPA staff by as much as two thirds. Many of the agency’s environmental inspectors will no longer be on the beat to monitor conditions in their region and ensure that companies are complying with the law.

During the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, it became clear that both state and federal regulators fell asleep at the wheel. With even fewer EPA employees around to do their jobs, you can expect more Flint-type crises to occur, exactly at the time when we should be calling for more regulators, not fewer, to deal with the potential contamination of drinking water, air or soil looming in cities and towns across the country.

A sign asking for donations during the Flint water crisis.
A sign asks for donations during the Flint water crisis.
Barbara Kalbfleisch/Shutterstock

3. Our most vulnerable populations will suffer even more.

Communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous populations are already exposed to more pollution than the average person in America. If the EPA’s budget is slashed, some of the most vulnerable populations will be hit even harder by weakened public health and environmental safeguards, further increasing their pollution burden and resulting in even greater health disparities.  

Additionally, some under-served communities, which tend to be filled with Superfund sites and other contaminated areas, will receive less funding for cleanup projects from the EPA, which pays for a significant portion of this funding. Adding insult to injury, the Superfund program is already notoriously underfunded—slashing it further would neuter the program almost entirely.

Interstate 70, built in the 1960s, cuts through the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods of Denver, Colorado. These predominantly Latino communities are now the most polluted in all of Colorado, suffering from higher rates of cancer, heart disease and asthma than people in other areas of Denver.
Interstate 70, built in the 1960s, cuts through the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods of Denver, Colorado. These predominantly Latino communities are now the most polluted in all of Colorado, suffering from higher rates of cancer, heart disease and asthma than people in other areas of Denver.
Earthjustice Photo

4. We’ll all be less informed, especially when it comes to scientific issues.

The EPA produces reams of data and scientific reports on which policymakers both federal and state rely. With a reduced budget, the agency simply won’t have as much money to fund these reports. That means companies and private enterprises will need to step in to fill the research funding gap, which raises all kinds of issues about independence and the objectivity of the research. 

Science and supporting health data also allows for planning and preventing the problems we know about today, like climate change. Slashing government science will cause us to lose the ability to understand and plan for both existing and new environmental challenges and dangers.

 In 2010, the EPA added the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY to the Superfund National Priorities List. The Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most seriously contaminated water bodies, with more than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper, found at high levels in the canal's sediment. Without funding and research from the EPA, this risk may not have been identified.
In 2010, the EPA added the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY to the Superfund National Priorities List. The Gowanus Canal has become one of the nation's most seriously contaminated water bodies, with more than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals found at high levels in the canal's sediment. Without funding and research from the EPA, this cleanup project may not move forward.
a katz/shutterstock

5. The economy will take a nose dive.

Though often painted otherwise, the EPA is a huge job creator. Each year, the agency gives billions of dollars to state and local governments through grants and contracts that help local officials clean up polluted sites and enforce federal mandates that protect the air and water. In Colorado, for example, the EPA awarded more than $6 million in grants and contracts to the state during the 2017 fiscal year for projects like cleaning up old mining sites that are contaminating local waters. EPA funding also helps ensure financial support to water infrastructure improvements and to state safe drinking water programs, as well as supports universities and colleges with research grants.

Slashing the EPA’s budget will mean that many of these projects will go by the wayside—and so too will the economies that are dependent on them. In Washington state, for example, the EPA awards grants for monitoring water quality and combatting invasive species, which is critical for keeping nearby fish populations healthy. If that money goes away, thousands of fishing jobs will be put at risk. In addition, tribes rely on EPA funds to create environmental protection programs on tribal lands. 

A sign asking for donations during the Flint water crisis.
Josh Chi unloads Chinook salmon from fishing boats in Fort Bragg, CA. Fishermen's jobs depend on clean water and healthy fish.
Chris Jordan-Bloch/Earthjustice

No one voted for a dirtier, more hazardous environment in the last election. Yet that is exactly what Trump and his polluter cronies on the Hill are gunning for with their proposal to gut the EPA.

But don’t just take our word for it. Look at what happened to the state of Oklahoma after then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt dismantled his office’s environmental unit. Over the next six years, Oklahoma was hit by hundreds of earthquakes, which were eventually linked to nearby fracking operations. While residents anxiously awaited answers and solutions to the cause of the repeated quakes, Pruitt idly stood by as his defanged and defunded agency watched helplessly in the wings

At the time of the Oklahoma agency’s dismantlement, a former state environmental regulator commented that the move didn’t get much attention from the public. We can't allow the same mistake to happen on the federal level.


ABOUT THIS SERIES

The 45th U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, is bent on gutting environmental protections, and—with a polluter-friendly Congress at his side—he’ll likely do everything he can to dismantle our fundamental right to a healthy environment. The Capitol Watch blog series will shine a light on these political attacks from Congress and the Trump administration, as well as the work of Earthjustice and our allies to hold them accountable.

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