Ohio at Risk: New Report “State of Risk” Reveals Broad, Adverse Impact on Ohio Communities and Public Health from Threatened EPA Cuts

Congress to decide fate of critical environmental operations in next 45 days

August 24, 2017
Ben Schneider, 202-841-3763, bschneider@edf.org


State of Risk: Ohio, 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 Ohio 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 Ohio and in Washington D.C. at a news conference.

It provides an extensive overview of the EPA’s footprint in Ohio and examines how the proposed cutback plans threaten public health as well as commerce and tourism in the Buckeye 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 $225 million in grants alone to Ohio over five years, notes the report.

“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 Ohio for decades,” 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 Ohio. 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:

  • Drinking water is at risk in Ohio. More than 2.3 million people – third highest in the nation – get their drinking water from systems with Safe Drinking Water Act violations. Additionally, the Ohio River, which supplies drinking water to 5 million people, has for years topped the list of American waterways contaminated by industrial pollution. The Trump administration would eliminate the Nonpoint Source Pollution grant program which poured $23 million into Ohio to address run off pollution. Ohio EPA estimates that projects funded in 2015 will prevent 46,000 pounds of nitrogen, 15,000 pounds of phosphorus and 15,000 pounds of sediment each year from flowing into Ohio waters.
  • Breathing is at risk in Ohio. Ohio has several communities that are among the top 20 most polluted for year-round particle pollution and short-term air pollution, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). Eight counties in Ohio scored an “F” for high ozone levels and three others scored “D’s.” Akron/Canton and Cincinnati/Wilmington/Maysville are among the top 20 most polluted areas in America for year-round particle pollution. EPA grants which help states and communities monitor and clean up dirty air would be sharply curtailed.
  • Land is at risk in Ohio. There are 38 toxic Superfund sites in the state, and 921 brownfield sites ready to be restored and turned into developable land. The Trump budget would cut Superfund and brownfield funding by 30 percent. This includes a 37 percent cut to Superfund enforcement efforts which make polluters pay for cleanups instead of taxpayers and an 18 percent cut to emergency response funds, which help clean up the most urgent threats.
  • Research is at risk in Ohio. The Trump budget would end the Science To Achieve Results (STAR) grant program, which provided targeted research grants across several scientific disciplines to Ohio State University’s College of Public Health and the University of Cincinnati.
  • EPA itself is at risk in Ohio. President Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt are looking to lay off 3,000 EPA scientists, pollution enforcement specialists, grant administrators and other staffers nationwide, including from the agency’s Cleveland office and its major Office of Research and Development lab in Cincinnati. The president and EPA chief would toss 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 work to see 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 still leave many major programs unfunded, provide for significant staff cuts and leave other parts of the president’s plan to demolish EPA unchanged.

Holstein, who formerly oversaw environment and science budgets for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, said Ohio’s Congressional delegation will find in the new report critical ways in which 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 on which Ohioans and others across the United States rely as the foundation for building a better life.”

Mary Gade, former EPA Midwest regional administrator, urged the Ohio Congressional delegation to keep EPA strong.

“As the State of Risk report documents, EPA grants and EPA people have helped Ohioans breathe better, swim and fish better, and live better for decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike,” said Gade, who was appointed EPA Region 5 administrator by President George W. Bush and also served as EPA Director for the state of Illinois. “Ohio EPA and the U.S. EPA are a team that should not be broken up. The people of Ohio need and deserve better than a Trump EPA budget that says ‘it’s all your problem now.”

A former director of Ohio’s state environmental agency concurred.

“We’ve made a lot of progress over the decades in Ohio, but there is more to be done, as State of Risk documents. Protecting the environment is a never-ending job. You can’t just stop and say, ‘we’re done.’” said Rich Shank, former director of the Ohio EPA and chief environmental officer for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company in Marysville.

Corporations generally need and often prefer dealing with stable regulatory agencies with predictable, uniform enforcement of environmental laws, Shank said. Cuts in funding, programs or staffing of environmental agencies erode the confidence of corporate planners and may make executives reluctant to build or expand plants.

“Companies can’t make commitments for multimillion dollar investments for capital expenditures in new or expanded facilities and infrastructure improvements in an uncertain and unstable regulatory climate,” said Shank. “That reluctance translates to lost jobs and missed opportunities for communities to build a bigger tax base.”

After a toxic bloom in Lake Erie in 2014 forced a three-day shutdown of the water system that serves 400,000 residents of Toledo and Lucas County, the county used funds from EPA’s Great Lakes Initiative to slow farm runoff and upgrade its water treatment plant. The Trump budget would eliminate the Great Lakes program.

“Our biggest threat used to be algae and invasive species in the lake,” said Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak. “Now my biggest threat are the budget-makers in Washington.”

Her County Commissioner recently passed a resolution that says, in no uncertain terms, “We demand that the Trump Administration and the federal EPA preserve, protect, and restore the waterways of the United States.”

Others commenting during the release of State of Risk said they also worry about changes which administrator Pruitt is ordering even before any 2018 budget would takeseffect.

“As a physician, I’m particularly troubled by moves to stifle science and lay off scientists at the EPA, including experts from the agency’s Office of Research and Development in Cincinnati,” said Dr. Beth Liston, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the Ohio State University. “The EPA itself says science provides the foundation ‘to safeguard human health and ecosystems from environmental pollutants.’ The president’s plan to dial back and control EPA science teams in Ohio and around the country is dialing back on safeguarding human health.”

Michele Timmons’ youngest son was diagnosed with asthma when he was six months old.

“My greatest wish now is that my grandchildren never experience the air quality alerts which forced my youngest son, a severe asthmatic, to play inside so many times during his childhood”” said Timmons, a former high school teacher turned small-business owner who grew up in Steubenville in the 70s when it was one of the most polluted cities in America. She even took part there in Harvard’s famed “Six Cities Study,” in which her lung capacity was tested every three years from first grade through college to determine long-term impacts of air pollution on children. Today, she’s become active in the “Mom’s Clean Air Force,” worried that budget cuts will derail clean-air progress in Ohio.

State of Risk: Ohio is one in a series of Environmental Defense Fund reports cataloging the impact of president Trump’s proposed cuts to EPA funding. Reports are available at www.edf.org/EPAcuts.

Ohio and EDF experts are available to provide further context and comment about the EPA budget; please contact Ben Schneider, bschneider@edf.org, (202) 841-3763.   

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