Editor’s note: This post was updated Sept. 22, 2017
There is a jarring disconnect in Washington as the Trump administration continues to push for cuts that will hamper the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s disaster response work – just as millions of Americans struggle to recover from hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
That’s right: Congress is getting ready to vote on bills that would directly affect the EPA’s ability to address urgent health and environmental impacts from major storms.
In the coming weeks, lawmakers will be voting on EPA’s annual budget for the new fiscal year. The final budget deal will likely be done behind closed doors, and that’s where President Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill are planning to try to eviscerate the agency’s budget.
When disasters strike, states desperately need sufficiently staffed and effective federal agencies by their side to deal with petrochemical spills, leaking sewage, flooded Superfund sites, asbestos-containing building debris and a slew of other health threats.
But many EPA programs that help communities deal with such challenges are now on the chopping block. Here are a few:
EPA Homeland Security services: 40% cut
These programs assess public health risks posed by major infrastructure and industrial facilities damaged by wind, flooding or other emergencies. The EPA coordinates closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state authorities to work fast and efficiently in these situations.
EPA Superfund and Brownfield programs: 30% cut
Old and often-toxic industrial sites can leak hazardous contamination into nearby neighborhoods when flooded. These programs monitor and address such threats and help with long-term cleanup.
They also take stock of chemicals and the risks they present, put measures in place to protect people from exposure, and hold polluters accountable when chemicals are released.
EPA air quality monitoring: 30% cut
This work helps communities know when disaster and fires have released hazardous chemicals into the air, which was a concern with the Arkema plant near Houston.
In addition, it provides major financial support to help communities nationwide monitor air quality year-round and warn citizens about Code Red unhealthy air days and other dangers that trigger asthma attacks and other lung problems.
EPA Public Water System Supervision: 30% cut
This program allows the EPA to play a major role organizing water quality safety and mounting responses to disasters, including raw sewage spills and other waterborne hazards that are common after storms.
In Houston, for example, health experts are now warning of E. coli and other bacteria in water-logged neighborhoods, problems that can have profound health effects unless properly monitored.
Of course, these are just a handful of the many programs slated for reduction or elimination under President Trump’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year.
In all, the president is requesting a massive 30-percent cut to the EPA, a budget reduction greater than any other department or agency is facing. It would return the EPA’s real budget to where it was 40-plus years ago. In addition to hampering our ability to help communities devastated by storms, such a cut would have a dramatic impact on public health and the environment everywhere.
Is this what America needs right now?