While running for president, Donald Trump vowed to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form.” Tragically for all of us, especially our children and grandchildren, the dismantling has begun. A leaked version of Trump’s proposed budget reveals that, while military spending would increase by $54 billion, massive cuts are planned for the EPA – as much as one-quarter of the current $8 billion budget, resulting in the elimination of 42 programs and 20 percent of the agency’s 15,000 employees.
This is madness. Does it make any sense whatsoever to kill off the Energy Star program? Created under another Republican president, George H.W. Bush, in 1992, Energy Star sets global standards for more energy-efficient electronics, appliances, and heating and cooling systems. It’s a popular voluntary program that now has some 16,000 partners including manufacturers, retailers, schools, builders and real estate companies. Over the years, Energy Star has saved consumers an estimated $430 billion on their utility bills and avoided 2.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions. Get rid of this program and we’ll not only waste more energy and create more C02, but consumers will spend more because we won’t know any longer which products are more efficient.
Another legacy of the first Bush administration, the EPA’s environmental justice program, is also destined for the scrap heap. Funding would be cut from $6.7 million to $1.5 million, a 78 percent reduction. Now called the environmental equity office, it’s been responsible for providing small grants to disadvantaged communities toward improving air quality and getting lead out of drinking water. Part of the strategy was to leverage these grants into large programs – such as the example of Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the town turned $20,000 for helping clean up industrial contamination into over $270 million (raised from both public and private sources) to utilize the recovered land for housing as well as job training and health centers.
Mustafa Ali, who’s administered the office for almost 25 years, just resigned. He first sent a long letter to the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. “When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs….which have assisted over 1,400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most,” Ali wrote. Fat chance, I’m afraid.
Trump also wants to eliminate 30 percent of all state grants for cleanup of lead that’s poisoning our kids, especially in underprivileged communities. Another plan is to zero out an already small education program to promote testing for radon gas in people’s homes, the major cause of lung cancer except for smoking. As for abandoned industrial sites where the feds have long been involved in cleanups that companies can’t fully afford, the budget cut is proposed at up to 40 percent.
While this all means the lives of countless Americans will be in greater jeopardy, it doesn’t include the toll on our waters and wildlife. The Trump budget aims at eliminating more than 90 percent of federal funding toward restoration of the Chesapeake Bay (whose watershed crosses six states), Puget Sound (our second biggest estuary),and San Francisco Bay.
And the EPA isn’t the only agency in dire straits. Hundreds of millions are slated to be slashed from the Energy Department, which in the past has been able to fund technological research into advances like LED light bulbs and plug-in electric trucks. Such grants to companies bringing innovative technologies into the marketplace have enabled the cost of wind power to become competitive with coal.
Already, in a single day, with no opportunity allowed for public comment, the Trump administration managed to delay the implementation dates for 30 EPA rules promulgated under Obama. A bumble bee supposed to be added to the Endangered Species List now is in danger of extinction.
Are we the people going to stand for this? We’re talking about almost fifty years of environmental progress, including many standards established during the Nixon years. Are we prepared to roll back the clock to when Lake Erie caught fire because of pollution, or when the air was so bad in Los Angeles that going outdoors without a mask was risky.
What’s happening, I would say, is treasonous. Even if Trump collaborated with Putin to steal the election, this is worse. In my next blog, I’ll look at what’s being done to fight the onslaught, in the courts and on the streets.