State of Risk: Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania and in Washington D.C. at a news conference.
It provides an extensive overview of the EPA’s footprint in Pennsylvania and examines how the proposed cutback plans threaten public health as well as commerce and tourism in the Keystone 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 Pennsylvania over five years, notes the report.
“President Trump’s plan will kill safe-water projects, undermine clean air monitoring and leave tracts of land in Pennsylvania polluted and undevelopable,” said Elgie Holstein, EDF’s Senior Director of Strategic Planning.
“The President’s plan will eliminate or weaken efforts to cleanup dirty air and water, as well as hazardous waste sites,” Holstein added, “This is not just an assault on an agency. It is an assault on people’s health and safety.”
Documenting specific local and statewide consequences of the proposed EPA cuts, the report finds that hollowing out the EPA would be disastrous for Pennsylvania. 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 Pennsylvania. More than 8 million Pennsylvanians get their drinking water from surface water sources like rivers, lakes and streams. The Trump administration would eliminate the Nonpoint Source Pollution grant program which poured $23 million into Pennsylvania for protecting such waters over the last five years. The Trump budget also would zero out EPA’s Chesapeake Bay regional program, which brought another $34.3 million to the state in 2012-2016. One-third of the Bay’s waters drain into the Susquehanna River – a source of drinking water for millions.
- Swimming is at risk in Pennsylvania. The president’s budget would end EPA’s “BEACH Act” grants for protecting and monitoring water quality and fecal pollution in Lake Erie. The economies of four Pennsylvania counties are tied to the viability of Lake Erie.
- Breathing is at risk in Pennsylvania. Many of the worst areas in America for air pollution are in Pennsylvania. Six areas of the state rank among the top 25 most polluted areas in the country for year-round particles, according to the American Lung Association 2017 State of the Air report, while four make the “worst 25” list for short-term pollution. Philadelphia/Reading falls on both lists and also on the list for top ozone pollution. EPA grants which help states and communities monitor and clean up dirty air would be sharply curtailed.
- Land is at risk in Pennsylvania. There are 95 toxic Superfund sites in the state, (the third highest in the nation) and some 800 brownfield sites ready to be restored and turned into developable land. The Trump budget would cut Superfund and brownfield funding by 30 percent. And Pennsylvania has a backlog of 1,800 underground storage tanks at risk of leaking harmful chemicals into both soil and water; the administration plan eliminates one of two EPA programs to prevent and detect leaks and clean ground and groundwater – and cuts in half the second program.
- Research is at risk in Pennsylvania. The Trump budget would end the Science To Achieve Results (STAR) grant program, which provided $15.7 million in grants to Pennsylvania universities, colleges and researchers – including Penn State, Carnegie-Mellon, Swarthmore, Temple, U-Penn and Villanova.
- EPA itself is at risk in Pennsylvania. President Trump and Administrator Pruitt are looking to lay off 3,000 EPA scientists, pollution enforcement specialists, grant administrators and other staffers nationwide, including in the agency’s mid-Atlantic regional headquarters in Philadelphia. 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 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 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 Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation will find in the new report the 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 Pennsylvanians and others across the United States rely as the foundation for building a better life.”
Elected officials and environmental, evangelical and medical experts agreed that cutting the EPA budget would put the state at risk.
Environmental law Professor John Dernbach is with Widener University Commonwealth Law School
“The federal and state programs are inextricably linked,” Professor Dernbach said. “If we cut money to the states, we pull the pins out – removing the pillars that support protecting our environmental infrastructure.
“We undermine the whole effort to protect people from dangerous toxins in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and in the ground we live and walk on.”
Kathy Dahlkemper is Erie County Executive and a former member of Congress.
“Air, water and land are not partisan,” Dahlkemper said. “Congress can and must pull together to restore full funding – at the very least – for EPA, to ensure we in northwestern Pennsylvania have federal protections for Lake Erie, which touches four states and Canada, as well as the help we need to ensure fresh air for our kids and seniors and for turning abandoned Superfund and brownfield sites into jobsites. We can’t do it alone.”
Eastern Pennsylvania officials also praised EPA successes and noted concern for the agency’s future.
“The EPA has helped make critical improvements to Philadelphia’s air and water quality,” said Christine Knapp, director of the city’s office of sustainability. “In the past 25 years, unhealthy air days in Philadelphia have declined even as standards for healthy air days have become stricter.”
“The Trump administration’s proposed budget would have immediate and drastic effects on many environmental programs that Philadelphians rely on, including air pollution control and protecting the safety of our drinking water system.”
One observer of the State of Risk report said everyone has a responsibility to protect the Earth.
“For evangelicals, caring for God’s creation is a matter of life. We will not turn our backs on the biblical and moral imperative to preserve the land, water and air which sustains us,” said the Rev. Mitchell Hescox of New Freedom, PA, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “We hope Congress and the president will stand with the people of our commonwealth and of all the United States to let EPA to fulfill its mission: ‘The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment’.”
Dr. Marsha Haley is an oncologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“It boggles the mind to even think about eliminating EPA help here in Pennsylvania when we need all the help we can get. We need help to fix our air and water. We want people to be able to live free of cancer, asthma, and birth defects,” Dr. Haley said.
State of Risk: Pennsylvania is one in a series of Environmental Defense Fund reports cataloguing the impact of president Trump’s proposed cuts to EPA funding. State of Risk reports are available at www.EDF.org/EPAcuts.
Pennsylvania 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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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.