If you care about the water your kids drink at breakfast and the air they breathe as they walk to school, you should care about the Trump administration’s proposal to cut nearly a third of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget, advocates say.
In his inaugural budget proposal, President Donald Trump took an axe to the EPA, proposing a 31 percent cut in funding. It is part of a fiscal blueprint Trump says is needed to reprioritize spending, focus on safety and security and make “the tough choices that have been put off for too long.”
“This is a hard power budget, not a soft power budget,” Office of Management and Budget head Mick Mulvaney said.
The power budget could reshape, and in some cases eliminate, environmental programs in neighborhoods, jeopardizing everything from enforcement of landmark acts that cleans the nation’s air and water to programs that deal with pollution, according to Diane Takvorian of the California-based Environmental Health Coalition (EHC).
In Southern California, where the coalition is located, for example, the EPA’s TIGER Discretionary Grant program has supported environmental cleanup at the Port of San Diego, alleviating pollution in the adjacent Barrio Logan neighborhood.
In recent years, many residents in this largely Latino neighborhood have experienced higher-than-average asthma levels. That EPA program would disappear under the president’s fiscal 2018 budget, the Washington Post reported.
A little further south, a joint U.S.-Mexico program that cleans up environmentally hazardous sites and deals with public health issues that span the border of the two countries is also threatened by the budget plan, the National City, Calif.-based coalition said.
There is a far bigger threat, though, according to the group. With the loss of nearly a third of its budget (a proposed $2.6 billion cut) the EPA would struggle, and likely fail, to enforce the Clean Air and Water acts, Takvorian said.
“This is an underhanded way of gutting environmental laws like the Clean Air Act – by starving the agency that is charged with enforcing the law,” Takvorian, who is the EHC executive director, said in an email.
“You can’t cut 30 percent of the EPA and still enforce the Clean Air Act,” she said earlier.
The results of that cut would fall heavily on poor families and communities of color, she added. That’s because these communities often struggle with higher levels of pollution, yet have fewer ways to fight it, according to EHC.
Consider the Clean Power Plan. The president proposed killing funding for the 2015 plan, which is designed to cut carbon emissions at plants and fight climate change. In the United States, EHC has said, 68 percent of Black residents and 40 percent of Latinos live within 30 miles these power plants.
In addition, the administration is expected to propose gutting the EPA’s Environmental Justice work, by taking away 78 percent of its funding, The Oregonian reported during the week of March 6, citing a plan obtained by a national association. This would likely eviscerate an office dedicated to fairer development and implementation of federal environmental laws, policies and regulations, among other work.
“The Environmental Justice Executive Order and the Office of EJ that was a direct result, is the standard-bearer for undoing decades of discriminatory practices that resulted in low-income and communities of color bearing the brunt of pollution and disease,” EHC’s Takvorian said in an email.
“This decision to terminate funding for the EPA’s environmental justice programs sends a shameful message: The health of poor Americans is less important than that of the wealthy.”
The president’s federal budget is only a proposal, an opening gambit, and Congress now takes the lead. In the past, when Congress made its spending decisions, it often took far different steps than those proposed by the sitting president.
But, on March 16, the administration staked out its fiscal position – it wants a far smaller annual federal budget – and that position will likely guide it in coming negotiations with Congress.
In a budget full of proposed cuts to programs that families rely on to heat their homes, feed loved ones and find housing, it’s worth paying attention to how one of its largest cuts, at the EPA, would affect people around the country.
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News, which is published by Marguerite Casey Foundation. This story is part of the “Making It in Trump’s America” coverage. The top image, which shows people protesting to protect the Alamar River, is courtesy of Anibal Mendez, a community organizer with the Environmental Health Coalition.
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