Our Environmental Champion is at Risk

Eliminating or reducing the influence of federal agencies can have wide range implications. When the Environmental Protection Agency is at risk, I take notice as they are our Champion. Their sole mission is to prioritize the health of our Earth and our well-being! Per their website, “The United States Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the Federal government of the United States which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress.” Given the important role of the EPA, I was quite alarmed when Scott Pruitt was appointed to head the organization given his deep fossil-fuel ties and long history of suing the EPA, undermining its core mission.

Given this appointment, our president’s 2018 budget request came as no surprise. He proposes a 31 percent cut (2.6 billion) eliminating over 50 individual programs and nearly 4,000 full-time EPA employees, the lowest budget allocation for 40 years. Given the EPA’s wide spectrum of programs including Agriculture, Air Quality, Energy Efficiency and Global Climate Change, Pollution Prevention, Product Labeling, Technology, Transportation Programs, Waste Management, and Water, such a cut would diminish our quality of life.

Health – The EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and the Radon Program would both be threatened severely.  It would be virtually impossible to screen and test endocrine disruptors that threaten reproductive health and children’s growth and test for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, believed to cause lung cancer.  Recently Pruitt chose to ignore the EPA’s agency chemical safety experts and lift the ban on chlorpyrifos, concluded to cause learning and memory declines among farm workers and young children, exposed through drinking water and other sources.

Air – The Clean Air Act of 1970 funding designed to control air pollution, would be cut in half.  According to the EPA, between 1970 and 2015 emissions have dropped an average of 70 percent.  This program has been hugely successful, projected to save trillions of dollars in 2020 alone.  Cleaner skies have enhanced our health and reduced suffering.

Water –The two largest budget slashes suggested are The Great Lakes Program and Chesapeake Bay Program, up to 90%. Given industrial pollution, close monitoring is critical. The Great Lakes are the largest surface of freshwater in the world, 84% of North America’s surface freshwater. This cut would impact millions as the Great Lakes provide drinking water to around 40 million people in the United States and Canada and serve as a major food source. The Chesapeake Bay also relies on close monitoring to assure good water quality and healthy fish supporting local economies in several states. Grants to help states monitor public water systems stand to lose almost one third; certainly bad news for reeling Flint, Michigan!

Enforcement – The budget proposal reduces spending on civil and criminal enforcement by almost 60 percent making it difficult for the EPA to implement the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, assuring public health.

Clean-up programs – Proposals are to eliminate assistance with regional clean-up efforts in all our major bodies of water. And the Superfund program in charge of cleaning up the most polluted sites in the country would also be compromised.  The EPA identifies the polluters and makes them pay for the clean-up, saving taxpayers money. Per the EPA website, on 5/9/17 there were 1180 National Priority Sites and 50 proposed sites.  The proposed budget reduces enforcement and remedial components by 45%. The Brownfields program which helps towns and cities redevelop former industrial sites is proposed to lose 30% of its funding.  Sadly, contaminated sites disproportionately impact the disadvantaged who tend to suffer silently. This program gives them the opportunity to clean up and revitalize contaminated sites, boost their local economy and enhance their public health.

Climate Protection Program – Plans are to eliminate this program which provides expertise on climate solutions including energy efficiency, renewable energy, and adaptation to climate impacts.  While communities are already struggling with climate change ocean-rise and destructive weather patterns, no funding is proposed to advise or help those displaced communities. As for not pursuing energy efficiencies and renewables, we are missing a huge economic opportunity being enjoyed world-wide.

Nonpoint Source Grant Program – These funds help states deal with pollutants from sources that aren’t regulated by the Clean Water Act; all funds would be eliminated.

Radiation Protection and Response Preparedness – The EPA’s RadNet system monitors fall-outs from nuclear accidents making science-based decisions on how to protect the public. Proposals are to defund the protection program and keep some funds for “essential preparedness work”.

Science – Funding would be cut for the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, and funding eliminated entirely for the EPAs Environmental Education and Regional Science and Technology programs. Programs to study environmental hazards including lead, poor indoor air quality and radiation would be eliminated, while programs in place to minimize the damage of pesticides would be nearly eliminated.  Five scientists have already been fired with plans to replace them by the heads of polluting industry the EPA should be monitoring.

All these proposals will have a direct impact on our lives and well-being, particularly low-income, and minorities. Plans are already in motion to reconfigure and restructure the EPA’s activities so they will no longer place a “burden” on industry.  When science is questioned, ignored, and slighted with under-funding, it’ll be difficult for the EPA to develop sound regulations that protect us. Without sound science and regulations, how can they possibly fulfill the mission of protecting human health and the environment? When the EPAs mission is undermined, we are the ones who suffer and in turn bear the burden of a polluted Earth. Profits over people in its worst form.

Sources include recent summaries from The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Union of Concerned Scientists.