Trump EPA cuts would be 'devastating' say environmentalists

President Trump’s proposal to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by nearly a third will have “devastating” impacts on clean air, water, and ground programs, environmentalists and some state officials say.

It will also make enforcing pollution rules much more difficult, they say.

The Trump budget proposal calls for a 31 percent drop in funding for the EPA, slashing it from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion.  The plan must be approved by Congress to take effect.

Pennsylvania officials say the proposed cuts would impact safe drinking water, radon gas monitoring in schools, and air-quality programs.  Others warn states will have to increase permitting fees on businesses to fund environmental enforcement actions.

Here’s a breakdown of the proposed cuts, and how much of each program the administration would eliminate.

Local cleanups: -100%

Two regional cleanup programs that involve Pennsylvania would be eliminated: the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay Programs.  Of the two, the Chesapeake’s restoration would have the bigger impact on the state. The Susquehanna River, which traverses the state from north to south, empties into the Chesapeake Bay, supplying almost half its fresh water. But the Susquehanna is also a major source of pollution, largely from agricultural runoff.

“It is outrageous that the administration would eliminate programs that protect clean water, like the Chesapeake Bay Program. This is a program that is effective and yielding results,” said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

“The Chesapeake Bay Program has strong bipartisan support because it is working,” he said. “Female crab numbers are up, oysters are rebounding, and we have had record acreage of Bay grasses in each of the last four years.”

Clean air and water grants: -46%

The administration would cut grants states use to pay staff that administer and enforce federal laws including the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Safe Drinking Water Acts.

The proposal would ax current levels of EPA categorical grants by 46 percent, with funding dropping from about $1 billion to $597 million in fiscal year 2018.

The budget proposal offers bare-bones guidance, suggesting states reduce or eliminate “additional activities not required under federal law, prioritizing programs, and seeking other funding sources including fees.”

Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said recently that such cuts “would have an immediate and devastating effect on my state’s ability to ensure that Pennsylvania’s air is safe to breathe, our water is safe to drink, and our economy prospers.”

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection offered a statement from Gov. Christie’s office: “This is the beginning of a lengthy annual process in which every state will participate through its appointed and elected representatives.  As the process continues, the governor’s office will work with New Jersey’s state and federal representatives in reaffirming the state’s priorities.”

Superfund: -30%

Originally, EPA Administrator Greg Pruitt said moving away from a focus on climate change and going back to issues such as Superfund site cleanups would be a priority. However, the budget proposal calls for cutting the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account by nearly a third, from over $1 billion to $762 million.

Nationally, there are 1,337 active Superfund sites on the National Priorities List of the most hazardous sites.

Pennsylvania has 127 on the list. That includes sites in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester Counties.

New Jersey has 150, including sites in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties.

Enforcement: -24%

States would lose money to enforce federal rules and regulations. The budget proposes slashing the $548 million allocation to $419 million.

The Trump administration says the EPA should “refocus” enforcement priorities and avoid duplicating what the states are doing, giving the federal agency “a core enforcement oversight role.”

“Conservatives and liberals are united in the fact that this will make it extraordinarily difficult for states to carry out their responsibilities,”  said Bill Becker, director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a nonpartisan group that represents 40 state pollution-control agencies.