(Aug. 22, 2017) State of Risk: Florida, a new report from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), catalogues far-reaching and grave threats to air, water and land, and to the people and economy of Florida if President Trump’s proposed 30 percent cut to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget is enacted this fall. Such cuts would move the agency funding radically backward to its lowest level since the mid-1970s. The report was released in Florida and in Washington D.C. at a news conference.
It provides an extensive overview of the EPA’s footprint in Florida and examines how the proposed cutback plans threaten public health as well as commerce and tourism in the Sunshine State. States and local governments would face a terrible choice: stick taxpayers with the bill, drop other projects or watch their communities slide backward and become more polluted and less healthy.
The EPA has provided $600 million in grants alone to Florida over five years notes the report, which is available here.
“The President’s plan will eliminate or weaken efforts to cleanup dirty air and water, as well as hazardous waste sites,” said Elgie Holstein, EDF’s Senior Director of Strategic Planning.
“The president seeks to roll back common-sense environmental safeguards that have protected the health and well-being of Floridians and the more than 100 million visitors who travel to the state every year.” Holstein added, “This is not just an assault on an agency. It is an assault on public health and safety. It impacts the water we need, the land where our children play, and the very air that we breathe.”
Documenting specific local and statewide consequences of the proposed EPA cuts, the report finds that hollowing out the EPA would be disastrous for Florida. The Trump Administration and some in Congress are working to push the cuts through in the next 45 days, before the federal fiscal year ends.
“Washington is so broken right now that the Trump road map could be enacted in a blink of an eye in a backroom deal when Congress returns in September,” said Holstein.
The report provides a snapshot of the environmental needs and programs which a fully funded EPA can continue to remedy and support:
- Florida’s tourist economy is at risk. In the state with more coastline than any other, and extensive inland waterways, monitoring beaches and waters for fecal pollution is both critical and expensive. In one program threatened to be eliminated, EPA has provided a half-million dollars to the Florida Healthy Beaches Program over five years to help state and local governments monitor recreational waters for fecal pollution, and help local authorities warn the public when bacteria reach unsafe levels.
- Homeowners and businesses in Florida are at risk. Florida is home to 53 toxic Superfund sites and 1,272 brownfield properties; restoring any would open new land for business, retail, homes and parks and eliminate health risks associated with underground toxins like arsenic, lead, toluene and benzene.
- Breathing is at risk in Florida for the 1,110,252 adults and 319,778 children in the state diagnosed with asthma. In Florida in 2008, asthma attacks were the cause of 37,318 pediatric emergency room visits and over $2.6 billion in associated medical costs.
- Water is at risk in Florida: The Trump administration would eliminate regional programs including the South Florida Geographic Initiative, which for 25 years has helped local governments monitor, measure and set standards for phosphates and other pollutants from farms, ranches and development in the Keys, along the Indian River Lagoon and in the Everglades north to Central Florida headwaters. The president’s budget also would zero out funding for the National Estuary Program, which protects and restores vulnerable coastal watersheds including Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, Indian River Lagoon and Charlotte Harbor. Also at risk: EPA grants and staff to help communities protect the 7.5 million Floridians who drink from systems that previously faced Safe Drinking Water Act violations.
- Even sunshine is at risk in parts of the Sunshine State; 6 counties and 1 city have received EPA air quality monitoring grants over the last five years, and Hillsborough County — home to more than 1.3 million — received a failing “F” rating in the American Lung Association State of the Air report for ozone – an invisible pollutant that is one of the most dangerous contaminants for anyone who spends time outdoors.
President Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt also are seeking to lay off or force out some 3,000 EPA staff, tossing away science and public health experts with critical know-how, legal and compliance staff who ensure that polluters are held accountable to pay for cleanups rather than taxpayers, and grant administration staff who keep make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent properly.
A U.S. House of Representatives committee’s alternate budget would, if passed, partly restore some EPA programs but leave many major programs unfunded, make significant staff cuts and leave other parts of the president’s plan to demolish EPA unchanged.
“EPA’s already running on sharply reduced budgets, with greatly reduced staff,” Heather McTeer Toney, former southeast regional EPA administrator, said in a statewide call releasing the report. “Any cuts now would leave Florida’s air, land and water, and its businesses and people at risk.”
Holstein, who formerly oversaw environment and science budgets for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, said Florida’s Congressional delegation will find in the new report hundreds or even thousands of ways EPA has been helping the state manage risk.
“Congress can and must stop the madness of these proposed cuts,” Holstein said. “Anything less than full EPA funding for 2018 would hobble the environmental protections that Floridians and others across the United States rely as the foundation for building a better life.”
Elected officials and environment experts across Florida participating in the report launch agreed that EPA cuts would put the state in a heightened state of risk.
“No one appreciates more than we do in the Florida Keys the critical importance of a healthy marine environment,” said George Neugent, Monroe County mayor. “It’s not just a quality- of-life issue, though it certainly is that. A loss of EPA funding would be a devastating blow to our residents, our beach and maritime businesses and to the $2.7 billion which tourism adds to our economy every year.”
The view is the same North of the Keys.
“We’d be sunk without EPA support for keeping coral reefs alive and thriving, or for monitoring and enforcing wastewater treatment spills that have endangered our people and our marine life,” added Mayra Peña Lindsay, mayor of the Village of Key Biscayne. “We have neither the budget nor the expertise to do those kinds of things all on our own. And I can’t see how the state of Florida would have money to fill the critical gaps in health and safety which President’s budget cuts would cause.”
Across the state, Naples vice mayor Linda Penniman said protecting the environment is critical, adding, “We can’t do it without a strong EPA.”
“Clean water is our future in Southwest Florida,” Penniman said. “As an elected official, I see it is imperative that all of us in government service can assure our citizens that they are consuming safe drinking water and swimming in safe water free from fecal coliform. We need the EPA to partner with us in confirming to us and those we serve that clean water in both instances is assured.”
EPA cuts would even be felt in largely unpopulated areas of the state, then and reverberate back to population centers, said Dr. Stephen Davis, wetlands ecologist with the Everglades Foundation.
“In the Everglades, inches of sea level rise translate to miles of habitat change,” said Dr. Davis. “Cutting the EPA’s budget would set way back the progress we’re making for the more than 70 threatened or endangered species which call the Everglades home, not to mention for the 8 million Floridians who rely on the Everglades for their water supply.”
State of Risk: Florida is one in a series of Environmental Defense Fund reports cataloguing the impact of president Trump’s proposed cuts to EPA funding. It is available here, additional reports will be available at www.EDF.org/epacuts.
Reporters, Editors & Producers: Florida and EDF experts are available to provide further context and comment about the EPA budget; please contact Ben Schneider, email@example.com, 202-841-3763.
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