How a groundswell of citizen activism helped save the EPA

Sam Parry

Something amazing happened in Washington in late March: Congress rejected Trump’s draconian cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and a host of other critical federal programs. In the end, the president had no choice but to sign the 2018 federal budget into law.

None of this could have happened without a groundswell of activism – tens of thousands of citizen petitions and phone calls over the past 13 months, pounding away on lawmakers. Many of them face tough mid-term elections, and the political risk of gutting the EPA ultimately proved too great.

It wasn’t Congress that ultimately saved the EPA – it was you.

A time to celebrate – and to stay vigilant

Over the past year, public opinion polls have consistently shown that Americans support clean air and water safeguards, and that they oppose the idea of a decimated EPA.

Congress listened and this will mean less pollution, healthier kids and – in the stark terms of Washington calculations – a greater recognition that attacking environmental safeguards is bad politics.

It’s a genuine moment for celebration – but also a reminder to all of us that this fight must go on.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is still aggressively pursuing an agenda to undermine his agency’s work. He recently bragged to the Heritage Foundation that he wants to add hurdles to using sound science at the EPA.

How Congress bucked Trump

This year’s budget showdown isn’t going to stop Trump and Pruitt from trying again. But for now, we can celebrate that Congress:

• added $66 million to the Superfund toxic cleanup program. The Trump administration wanted to cut it by one-third.

• kept a funding level of $228 million for state and local air quality management. The administration had requested a reduction of nearly 30 percent.

• maintained last year’s funding of $14 million for lead programs in states. Trump’s budget proposed to zero out such grants for states.

• added $12 million in funding to grants fighting water pollution from the Long Island Sound to Gulf of Mexico and Lake Champlain. Trump had called for eliminating these grants.

• fully funded the Integrated Risk Information System that Pruitt was reportedly planning to dismantle. The program supports researchers studying public health dangers from pollution and chemicals.

• increased U.S. Department of Energy funding for the agency’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division from $2.1 billion to $2.3 billion. The administration had targeted the program, critical to developing a sustainable energy future, for a 50-percent cut.

Members of Congress weren’t ready to explain to their constituents why they had voted for more pollution, and instead chose to do the right thing. I hope Mr. Pruitt, who likes to say his only job is to implement the will of Congress, is listening now.

See 4 comments