Most of the discussion surrounding environmental budget cuts in Virginia have centered on the elimination of funding for the Chesapeake Bay, and the subsequent fallout on our streams, fishing economy and recreational activities. But, I want to note that the Bay has activists to fight for funding restoration. Senators Tim Kaine (D - VA) and Mark Warner (D - VA) are on record calling on the rejection of these budget cuts. What about the other federal budget cuts that will impact Virginia’s environmental and energy programs?
Trump’s proposed budget will significantly reduce funding for the EPA by 31 percent, the Department of Interior by 12 percent and the Department of Energy’s nonnuclear programs by 18 percent. For many Americans, these budget cuts may sound like banal numbers on paper, but it means that we will have fewer people and fewer grants to safeguard our environment.
The reality is that the majority of EPA programs are run by state government agencies, and are partially funded by the federal government. Federal environmental laws set the national standards for environmental protection, and the EPA develops enforcement programs and policies to ensure the law is being followed. States work with the EPA through specific programs to achieve compliance. Bottom line: they need federal dollars to do their job.
Here in Virginia, the Office of Natural Resources depends on federal funding for 19 percent of its budget. The Department of Environmental Quality has cumulatively received more than $550 million in EPA grants for compliance programs. Those resources helps the state safeguard the environment.
Each year the EPA awards more than $4 billion in grants. Several of Virginia’s state agencies such as the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries have received funding for enforcement activities like indoor radon testing, beach monitoring, pesticide performance, hazardous waste management and air pollution control.
This funding also goes towards small nonprofit organizations and provides average citizens with an opportunity for meaningful involvement – an opportunity to be part of the decision-making process with the responsible state and federal government agencies.
In 2015, the Greater Southeast Development Corporation of Newport News, Va. was awarded $30,000 through the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program to address lung health in the community. Residents created a coalition to improve the health of residents by raising awareness about air pollutants and developing self-care strategies for respiratory health.
So while the Chesapeake Bay receives several headlines in this budget cut discussion, remember the day-to-day environmental protections that also need funding.
It’s important that we lobby our elected officials to fight for federal dollars that support local cleanup projects, raise awareness about air pollution, and save energy efficiency programs that helps low-income families save money on their utility bills. Heavy cuts force us to prioritize which families will have clean air and water, and which families will suffer from asthma and lead in their drinking water.
Last week, I talked about President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA, FEMA and NOAA, and the irresponsibility of this administration to defund agencies needed for environmental protection.
Well, Trump released his 2018 budget yesterday and it’s just absurd.
In order to increase defense spending by $54 billion, Trump decided to take money from 18 other agencies, decimating dozens of federal programs that fund scientific research, assist the poor and protect public health. The proposed budget targets climate change investments, clean energy programs and restoration initiatives.
The 2018 Budget requests $5.7 billion for the EPA, a $2.6 billion reduction, or 31 percent loss, from the 2017 annualized continuing resolution (CR) level. The EPA will lose 50 programs and 3,200 staffing positions.
Congress must approve the budget by the end of April, or we’ll face another partial government shutdown on April 29 when the current temporary funding bill expires. The official budget won’t take effect until the new fiscal year on October 1.
The federal government sets the priorities of the country through its budget, and the general theme of the 2018 Budget is if the Trump administration deems a program low priority or poorly performing, it’s not going to be funded. The environment and climate change has taken the biggest hit.
Functions that can be absorbed into other programs, including on the state and local level, will be made redundant. This is part of an effort to eliminate or severely reduce federal investment in state environmental activities – or ‘government overreach’ according to the GOP.
Here are environmental and energy programs that will be eliminated under Trump’s proposal:
Environmental Protection Agency
More than $100 million of funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts will be discontinued. The focus is to reorient the clean air program “without unduly burdening the American economy.”
Severe budget cuts are in store for the Office of Research and Development, the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, Superfund sites and categorical grants which allows states to receive funds to implement water, air, waste and toxic substances programs
Department of Energy
The Office of Science will experience a $900 million reduction. Funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability will focus on applied energy research and development activities where the federal role is stronger.
Department of Interior
The Interior Department will increase funding and relax permitting processes to allow industry to drill on public lands to access energy resources. Even though the 2018 Budget mentions support for land management operations from the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, a 12 percent budget will make it difficult for maintenance of national parks, historic sites and public lands.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The 2018 Budget slashes research for climate, ocean and earth science programs. The development of polar orbiting and geostationary weather satellites will be maintained so forecasters can continue to have critical weather data.
Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development
Trump seeks to eliminate the Global Climate Change Initiative (GCCI) and cease payments to the United Nations’ climate change programs, such as the Green Climate Fund – a key component of the Paris climate agreement. The U.S. provides foreign assistance through the GCCI to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, foster low-carbon economic growth and promote climate-resilient societies.
If we close our eyes and wish really, really hard, the planet will magically heal itself. And all the big, bad polluters will learn the error of their ways and make amends for generations of damage done to our communities.
We’re living in the days where Captain Planet seems like a more reasonable option to protecting the environment, than our own Environmental Protection Agency.
Last week, President Trump proposed a $2 billion budget cut for the EPA, which would reduce funding for the agency by 25 percent. Such a cut would eliminate dozens of key programs and cost the agency about 3,000 jobs, which is one-fifth of the agency’s staff.
In 2016, the EPA had more than 15,300 employees with almost half of its staff working in regional offices across the country. The majority of EPA programs are run by state government agencies that employ environmental protection workers.
Somehow enforcing environmental regulations and ensuring public safety is a job-killer, so thousands of EPA jobs will be cut so more Americans can be hired to work in the declining coal industry.
This is how you eliminate the EPA. You weaken it with budget and staff cuts so that the agency cannot effectively do its job.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt still has time to make changes to the final budget, but we can see where things are headed. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies obtained a preliminary budget that showed budget cuts more than 40 programs. Items include:
The EJ 2020 – the agency’s strategic plan to advance environmental justice from 2016 to 2020 – will also suffer major setbacks in its infancy. It’s possible this plan will be scrapped altogether if the budget goes from $6.5 million to $1.5 million. Environmental justice programs play an integral role in focusing on environmental and public health issues that impact low-income, indigenous and minority communities.
Once again, our most vulnerable communities will suffer the most because of these budget cuts.
What is it going to take for Trump to understand that you can’t just wish for clean air and water to magically happen? You need policies and regulations to make it happen.
View the programs and state grants that will change under President Trump's budget proposal. All figures are in millions.
President Trump signed an executive order for the EPA to begin repealing the Clean Water Rule and replace it with something else. But here’s the gag: the new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, will have to go through a rulemaking process that has taken years to revise and implement, and then defend it in court.
At the moment, the rule is on hold after a stay by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit due to numerous lawsuits that are making its way through the court system (one of which was brought forth by current Pruitt when he was the former attorney general of Oklahoma).
Figuring out which bodies of water need federal protection has caused legal confusion for years.
To understand the complexity of this rule, we have to understand the Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) is a federal law that regulates quality standards for surface waters and pollutants discharged in waterways that could impact human health or aquatic life. The law has dozens of regulations for entities that may spill anything harmful into the “waters of the United States.”
The CWA is clear when it comes to major navigable waters such as rivers and lakes, and other waterways connected to them. It is unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source (e.g. pipe or man-made ditch) into navigable waters unless there’s a permit to do so.
However, the law is murky in regards to small waterways such as streams and wetlands that don’t fall under the “navigable” category. Environmentalists have argued that smaller waterways that feed into rivers and lakes that provide drinking water need federal protection as well.
The Clean Water Rule – commonly referred to as the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule – defines and determines which waters are protected under the CWA to ensure the nation’s water resources are protected. The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for determining which waterways fall under this protection.
To provide clarity on the CWA, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers held hundreds of meetings, reviewed over one million public comments and utilized peer-reviewed scientific studies to establish the Clean Water Rule in 2015. The rule now extends federal protection for two million miles of streams and 20 million of acres of wetlands – essentially any wet spot, or occasionally wet spot, in the country – that provides drinking water to nearly one-third of Americans.
The Obama administration saw the broad reach of the rule as a victory that protected the drinking water of 117 million Americans, but it faced heavy criticism from farmers, ranchers, real estate developers and manufacturing, among others.
Opponents argue that any piece of land would suddenly fall under the jurisdiction of ‘waters’ and would need to secure federal permits to offset its impact. It represents another example of government overreach.
The fight against WOTUS is being led by Big Ag, farm lobbyists, small business groups and developers, not the usual big bad wolf: the fossil fuel industry. But supporters of the rule include outdoor enthusiasts such as hunters, anglers and boaters, a mostly conservative group.
This could be an interesting debate amongst the GOP.
It took more than a decade for WOTUS to be finalized. Previous administrations had failed to expand the regulatory scope of the CWA after the Supreme Court slapped down the rewriting of the law, most recently in 2001 and 2006.
Democratic state attorney generals are already looking into mounting lawsuits for rolling back the rule, which will probably end up before the Supreme Court of the United States again.
We’ll see if Pruitt will be able to effectively scale back the water rule by 2020, and regulate smaller waterways without always having to go to court.
What happened in East Chicago?
The national attention Flint received may have sparked action to finally be taken in East Chicago, Indiana but there are thousands of low-income communities in the U.S. that are being poisoned because of environmental racism.
East Chicago – a predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhood – is one of those cities.
In July 2016, nearly 1,200 residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago received a letter from the mayor ordering them to temporarily relocate because of high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil.
Other residents of Calumet received a notice from the EPA stating how high the lead and arsenic levels were around their homes. This was based on samples taken in December 2014.
That’s right. They were informed almost two years later.
According to EPA documentation, lead levels exceeded 5,000 parts per million when the standard level allowed is 400 parts per million.
The most contaminated yards showed lead levels 227 times above the allowable limit. Arsenic levels were 135 times above its limit.
By September 1, Mayor Anthony Copeland had informed residents they were being given 60 days to find a new home as the public housing complex would be demolished. This sent hundreds of low-income families scrambling to find a place to live in an area with a limited availability of affordable housing.
Many families were required to pay for their relocation costs out of pocket before voucher and rent reimbursement.
After 60 days nearly passed, only 29 of 332 families had found alternative housing. HUD had to extend its deadline to ensure all eligible residents had access to safe housing and relocation benefits.
Today, East Chicago is grappling with dislocation, health concerns and cleanup efforts.
670 children lived in that housing complex. By the end of summer 2016, city officials confirmed that 33 children younger than 7 years old had excessive lead in their bloodstream. With lead screenings still ongoing, it’s expected that more kids have been poisoned.
The EPA has found elevated levels of lead in drinking water in 18 of the 43 homes tested in a pilot study to determine if the contaminated soil caused lead in pipes to enter the water supply. The Northwest Indiana Times is reporting that up to 90 percent of homes in East Chicago have lead in their water lines.
Members from various community groups have now organized into the East Chicago Calumet Coalition to communicate needs and questions to the EPA. They are also working with lawmakers to draft legislation that provides financial assistance to aid in cleanup and testing, the school district and residents that were forced to relocate; including homeowners that need to sell their houses.
Many are wondering how government agencies let this happen and why action wasn’t taken sooner.
Brace yourselves. A full-out war on the environment is percolating and we must prepare for the battles we will fight during the next four years, and beyond.
Two weeks ago, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R – UT) introduced a bill that would sell off 3.3 million acres of public lands in 10 western states because those lands served “no purpose for taxpayers.” Chaffetz withdrew the bill after facing a major backlash from constituents, outdoor groups and conservation organizations
Last week, Congress voted to repeal the Stream Protection Rule and Obama’s rule on methane emissions.
On Friday, Representative Matt Gaetz (R- FL) introduced a bill to abolish the EPA by the end of 2018 and has garnered support from a trio Republicans who are co-sponsoring the bill: Thomas Massie (R – KY), Steven Palazzo (R – MS) and Barry Loudermilk (R – GA).
The bill has no text, but the logic behind the legislation once again has to do with overregulation and overreach of the federal government. Gaetz is hoping for a smooth transition of oversight and regulations from the federal government to individual states.
In an email obtained by The Huffington Post, Gaetz wrote, “Our small businesses cannot afford to cover the costs associated with compliance, too often leading to closed doors and unemployed Americans. It is time to take back our legislative power from the EPA and abolish it permanently.”
Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush tried to roll back many of the EPA’s rules and were often challenged by the courts and expert environmental litigators. That’s because EPA regulations cannot be easily rescinded. Rescinding rules is a lengthy process that involves a period of public comment and litigation that starts at the lower courts that can take years to get to the Supreme Court.
Terminating the EPA would violate many laws that are tied to the agency enforcing them and is not the most feasible, or legal, option for the Trump administration. He would need the approval of Congress to do so.
However, what we will continue to see is a hostility towards environmental issues. Gaetz’s bill may never be signed into law, but a Republican majority Congress can do everything in its power to defund the EPA.
Trump can pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement and not defend the Clean Power Plan in court. Scott Pruitt may cut staffing levels and close regional offices to weaken the agency.
Their goal is to reduce the effectiveness of the agency through any possible legal means.
But, this isn’t new for environmental advocates. We will fight this in court and in our communities.
Local level politics is where a lot of action is taking place. Part of the fight is getting a seat on city council to make environmental issues a political priority.
We must continue to push forward strong environmental policy agendas in our cities. States can continue to make incremental progress through zero-emission vehicle mandates, brownfield redevelopment programs, green building codes, smart energy grids, renewable energy and LEED buildings and mass transit.
This is only the third week of the Trump presidency and fatigue is setting in. As environmental advocates, know that this is going to be a long-fought battle and we will get bruised along the way. But know that we’re doing this to protect regulations and policies that keep us safe and the earth habitable.
Call your representatives and senators, show up to demonstrations, support good science journalism and donate to organizations that are working to protect the planet. We need you to keep fighting back.
On December 15, 2016, the Obama administration issued the Mercury Effluent Rule, the EPA’s final rule to address mercury discharge from dental offices into publicly owned treatment works (POTWs).
On January 20, 2017, only hours after taking office, the Trump administration issued a memo to federal agencies “immediately withdraw” final rules that were sent to the Office of the Federal Register but had yet to be published. On the following Monday, the EPA withdrew the Mercury Effluent Rule, but did so without giving public notice and an opportunity to comment – a requirement of repealing a final rule.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is suing the EPA for “illegally rescinding a rule that would protect the public from more than five tons of mercury discharges each year.”
Aaron Colangelo, litigation director at NRDC said, “The Trump White House ordered the EPA and other agencies to violate the law. That puts Americans at greater risk of exposure to this dangerous neurotoxin, which can do harm even in tiny amounts.”
Now, if you’re like me when visiting the dentist, you’re more concerned about if you have any cavities than what goes down the drain when the dentist tells you to “spit.” But dental clinics are the primary source of mercury discharges to POTWs.
It happens when new fillings are placed or drilled out. Dental offices may discharge the mercury-containing mixture into the chair-side drain which is then flushed into sewers that drain into POTWs. This frequently results in mercury partitioning into sludge - the solid material left over after wastewater is treated – which is then incinerated, sent to a landfill or used in the land application of sludge.
Approximately 5.1 tons of mercury each year makes its way into the environment from the dentist office.
The Mercury Effluent Rule requires for dental offices that discharge to POTWs to use an amalgam separator that captures mercury and other metals, and not discharge scrap amalgam. It is a practical and low-cost solution that is widely supported by dental providers
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system and disrupt brain function depending on exposure and health of the person exposed. The EPA lists effects of overexposure to elemental mercury (from the air), methylmercury (from fish) and mercury compounds (industrial processes).
Mercury pollution is widespread and originates from diverse sources. The EPA expects compliance with the Mercury Effluent Rule will reduce 5.1 tons of mercury discharge and 5.3 tons of other metals in dental waste amalgams going to POTWs.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.