President Trump’s recently proposed federal budget should have come with a warning label: This budget may cause adverse reactions, including shortness of breath, damage to vital organs, and serious illness, sometimes leading to death.
By Flora Cardoni & Gary Morton – Reprinted from The Morning Call April 30, 2019
Every day, most Pennsylvanians drink their tap water, go outside and breathe the air, and walk around outside without getting sick. This normalcy we all take for granted doesn’t just magically happen. It happens because our federal and state environmental protectors, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection employees, are on the job, maintaining continuous vigilance.
Through the hard work and dedication of these government employees, implementation of environmental regulations has achieved such a level of success that we often take clean water, air, and soil as a given, despite modern life’s reliance on chemicals, oil and pesticides.
Now comes President Trump’s proposed budget to slash funding for the EPA by 31%. The EPA Regional Office that serves Pennsylvania (as well as five neighboring states) is already understaffed: More than 350 critical positions have been cut in the region over the past few years. The president’s proposed budget would reduce our regional EPA workforce even further, cutting another 150 positions and bringing it to half of what it was a few years ago.
For Pennsylvania, this means more pollution of our water, lands and air. Nearly one in three days in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Harrisburg were unhealthy air days in 2016. This dangerous air pollution causes asthma attacks, respiratory problems and heart attacks. Scientists have shown that as air pollution increases, the rate of death from air pollution-related illness also increases, day to day. EPA clean air programs save the lives of 3,441 Pennsylvanians a year by reducing mercury, soot and smog pollution from the air, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
These programs only work if there are EPA employees on the ground, enforcing the rules. The proposed budget will deprive Pennsylvanians of the safeguards necessary to maintain Pennsylvania air quality because EPA will not have the personnel it needs to monitor, inspect and enforce the law against unlawful air polluters, never mind the staff and resources needed to further improve the commonwealth’s environmental protections and air quality.
Another example: Pennsylvania has 95 sites in the Superfund program, the most toxic of the toxic sites in America. A one-third cut to EPA’s budget means that these sites, many of which are within a few hundred yards of residential neighborhoods, will not be cleaned up anytime in the near future: a delay, not by a few weeks or months, but years, during which the toxic stew at these sites continues to jeopardize surrounding properties and residents, especially as downpours and flooding increase. Delay in a Superfund cleanup is akin to a delay in treatment of disease. Both are unnecessary risks that can lead to what could have been avoidable complications.
The proposed budget also slashes climate change research programs and prevention initiatives, including a 90% funding cut for the EPA’s Atmospheric Protection Program, which reports on greenhouse gasses, and a 70% funding cut for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This ignores the impacts of climate change the United States is currently experiencing, ignores the warnings of the National Climate Assessment (an annual report by scientists from 13 federal agencies) that we need to act now, and ignores the electorate.
There is common agreement by most, except the administration and the extraction industry, that the United States must transition to a clean energy economy in order to mitigate the effects of climate change to our health, economy, national security and livelihood. These budget cuts put our climate progress in reverse.
Some will say that the proposed Trump budget merely sets a target, and indeed it has: That target is squarely on the back of every Pennsylvanian who breathes the air, drinks the water, treads on the land and relies on a livable climate. The EPA needs more funding to protect our environment and public health, not severe budget cuts.
Pennsylvanians need Congress to step in where the administration has failed and protect our health and well-being by fighting to fully fund EPA.
Gary Morton is the president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238. Flora Cardoni is the Climate Defender Campaign director with PennEnvironment a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.