By Rachel Cleetus, Union of Concerned Scientists
News reports indicate that the Trump administration’s ‘skinny budget,’ to be announced tomorrow, will include draconian cuts to the EPA’s staff and budget. It’s pretty clear that despite President Trump’s claims that he will work “to promote clean air and clean water,” his administration is hostile to the very agency that helps safeguard these vital resources and protect our health.
Congress should reject outright these attempts to gut the EPA. Here’s why.
Americans depend on the EPA to protect our air and water
The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment. It works closely with states, territories, and tribal authorities to advance this mission. A major share of the EPA’s budget is dedicated to state revolving funds and grants to help implement laws protecting clean air and clean water. Undermining the agency’s work and slashing its budget will hurt Americans’ health and our economy. It’s also a direct attack on resources that states rely on.
Just as a reminder of the environmental challenges our nation faced at the dawn of the EPA’s history, take a look at these stunning photos from the 1970s in the Documerica archive. I think it’s fair to say no one wants to turn back hard-won progress and go back to that.
Here are just a few of the critical functions the EPA’s staff and budget help fulfill:
- Cleaning up our air. A big reason why our nation’s air quality has been improving is the EPA’s ongoing work to implement the Clean Air Act and limit pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. There’s no question though that work remains to be done, including in major cities around the country (see map).
- Cleaning up our water. We rely on the EPA’s work to help states implement the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act and protect our rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans from pollution so that the water is safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. To avoid tragedies like the Flint water crisis, more resources and better enforcement of environmental protections are required, not less.
- Cleaning up toxic and hazardous pollution. The EPA’s work to help identify and clean up Superfund sites and Brownfields is vital to protecting people from extremely harmful pollutants, while rehabilitating lands and revitalizing communities. The agency works with businesses, state, and local governments and local communities to implement solutions. It also collects data (such as the Toxics Release Inventory) to monitor progress and make people aware of their risks. Proposed cuts to the budget for these programs will have a real impact on people living near these contaminated sites and will also adversely affect the value of their homes.
- Helping address climate change. Climate change is already taking a significant toll on our health and our economy. The EPA’s actions to help cut global warming emissions from power plants, vehicles, and other industrial sources are a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate impacts. Despite the near-certainty that the Trump administration will roll back these policies, there’s no denying the reality that they are much needed, and that the EPA is legally required to limit carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.
- Advancing environmental justice. The EPA plays a lead role in the federal government’s efforts to advance environmental justice, including through the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, tools like EJScreen, and a small grants program for community projects. Low-income and minority communities around the country face a disproportionate health burden from pollution.
As just one example, African-American children suffer much higher rates of asthma than white children and are more likely to be hospitalized and die from asthma. It’s just plain cruel to see the agency’s budget for environmental justice work, small as it is, being specifically targeted for cuts. News last week that Mustafa Ali, the head of the EPA’s environmental justice program, resigned underscores just how threatened this important work is under the Trump administration. In an interview, he said that his decision to resign after a quarter of a century at the agency was motivated in part by “seeing the rollback of the budget, or the elimination of budgets of certain programs that communities had been working for for years, had been supportive of because they had been working to make positive change inside of their communities.”
- Using and contributing to sound science to inform policymaking. The EPA’s research, data, and tools are vital to help monitor and assess the status of our nation’s air and water and help policymakers make informed decisions about how to improve their quality. The agency also regularly solicits expert opinions from independent scientists and experts, including through the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) and the Science Advisory Board (SAB).
- Boosting the economy. This one is pretty simple: we can’t have a thriving economy if Americans are suffering under the burden of costly and harmful health impacts of poor air and water. Neither can our economy thrive if the natural environment and ecosystems that underpin it are deteriorating. Clean air and clean water are fundamental to a good quality of life and a strong economy.
Reminder to Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration: You work for us, not the fossil fuel industry
The Trump administration (and especially EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt) needs to remember that it works for us, the American public. Rolling back clean air and clean water standards, spouting off thoroughly debunked climate denial talking points, decimating the EPA budget and workforce, ignoring environmental justice concerns: these are all signs of an administration that prioritizes fossil fuel industry interests ahead of our health and well-being.
For career EPA staff, this must be a tough time. Not just because some of their jobs may be on the line, but the very mission of the agency they work for is in jeopardy. That’s why today at noon the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3331—an affiliate of the AFL-CIO—is organizing a rally at the EPA headquarters in Washington, DC to protest the budget cuts and defend the EPA’s staff and the scientific integrity of their work.
People around the country are counting on the EPA to deliver the public health protections we need. Congress must stand up to the Trump administration and ensure that the EPA has the budget and staff resources it needs to do its job well.