The following post is by Alana Byrd, Executive & Program Assistant for the BlueGreen Alliance.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) mission is to protect human health and the environment. However, the administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget request, on which EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is slated to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce and Appropriations Committees today, leaves massive gaps in funding for our nation’s health and environmental responsibilities.
The budget request proposes slashing funds for key programs aimed at the agency’s main purpose: environmental protection. This includes traditional protections for clean air, land, and water, as well as equally important programs ensuring chemical safety and crucial funding for enforcement of existing safeguards.
If the EPA does not have the funding the carry out its critical duties, the clean air we breathe would be at risk; harmful chemicals in everyday products and the safety of industrial facilities could go unregulated; toxic dumps could go unmitigated; and bad actors who ignore health and environmental risks could be allowed to continue to pollute our air, land, and water without consequence. The president’s FY19 budget request for the EPA sadly ignores these realities, grossly underfunding the programs that all Americans need to lead healthy lives and ensure a clean environment for future generations.
It is concerning that the agency tasked with protecting the health of Americans and our environment has requested funding for FY19 at a rate 23 percent lower than the last fiscal year. It is difficult to imagine how, with this reduction, the EPA could possibly have enough resources to adequately enforce the laws already on the books, something it already struggles to do at its current funding level. In order for our scientists, environmentalists, and enforcers to do their jobs, the EPA needs greater funding, not less.
As the BlueGreen Alliance’s Letter to House and Senate Appropriators also lays out, the FY19 budget request takes aim at critical projects and programs that are proven and popular. For example, the budget request proposes cutting almost $400 million—over 90 percent—from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Chesapeake Bay program. These programs are key to improving the quality of our regional watersheds, and have proven immensely valuable and successful since their inception.
The Trump budget proposal also slashes the EPA’s Science and Technology enforcement program by almost 23 percent; its Environmental Programs and Management enforcement by over 17 percent; and its Environmental Justice enforcement program by a whopping 70 percent, among others. Proposed cuts to the EPA would also impact preeminent government technical centers and resources, such as the vehicle testing and certification laboratory at EPA’s Office of Transportation Air Quality.
It is concerning that the agency tasked with protecting the health of Americans and our environment has requested funding for FY19 at a rate 23 percent lower than the last fiscal year. It is difficult to imagine how, with this reduction, the EPA could possibly have enough resources to adequately enforce the laws already on the books…
Both Energy Star and WaterSense are programs with strong brand recognition that drive innovation to meet standards, consumer purchasing decisions, and energy efficiency. Energy Star is a voluntary federal program that allows industrial, commercial, utility, state, and local organizations to certify to consumers that their products are energy efficient. Since 1992, the program has helped save Americans more than 3.5 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity, and over $450 billion, all while contributing to environment-saving actions and driving investment and innovation. WaterSense, another volunteer federal program, similarly allows water-efficient producers to signify their efficiency with a symbol that allows consumers to recognize the potential cost and water savings of a participating product, service, or home. WaterSense products and services use at least 20 percent less water and save more energy than regular models, while performing as well or better than those models. Programs like these are critical to help drive both innovation and the manufacturing of energy efficient products. The energy efficiency sector currently employs over two million jobs across all 50 states, and is only projected to continue growing, thanks in part to drivers like Energy Star and WaterSense. The FY19 EPA budget request proposes instituting a user fee for the Energy Star program, while WaterSense is eliminated entirely.
Another critical program, the Integrated Risk Information System, would have its funding chopped in half. If this request is granted, we will lose significant resources for a program responsible for independently assessing the health risks of toxic chemicals to ensure good science informs policy decisions. As technology expands and new products are being developed rapidly to make our lives easier, now is not the time to rollback funding or enforcement of chemical and toxicity testing.
Additionally, the funding cuts impact essential enforcement activities that imbue the agency’s programs with meaningful consequences and ensure corporations and other actors will follow the letter of the law. With the proposed 12 percent cut to enforcement funding, we would expect polluters to continue to violate existing law with little consequence, while taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill downstream, as our bedrock environmental laws have been proven to save us billions in medical bills and cleanup costs. The Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 requires at least 200 investigators at the EPA. While in reality the agency would need even more investigators to carry out its enforcement responsibilities, it does not even have the required 200. With a cut in funding of over ten percent to its enforcement capacities, the agency is headed in the wrong direction.
Instead of compiling a budget that would prioritize our nation’s health and environmental protection, Administrator Pruitt is spending the agency’s money and resources on rolling back key protections. For example, it has significantly delayed and is poised to propose rolling back key amendments to the EPA’s Risk Management Plan, effectively allowing the same circumstances to continue that have led to over 1,500 chemical releases, fires, and explosions at facilities causing harm to over 17,000 individuals over the last decade. Given the fact that 23 million Americans live within a mile of a chemical facility, and at least one in every three American children attends school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous chemical facility, we cannot allow important laws and regulations to go unimplemented and unenforced.
The administration has suggested throughout the budget process that its request is more of a messaging document than a true proposal. We agree that this document sends a strong message: that this EPA is no longer invested in protecting human health and the environment. It is our hope that Congress will maintain robust funding for EPA and hold the agency accountable if it fails to meet its congressionally mandated responsibilities.