Attorney General Janet Mills joins 13 states calling on Congress to reject “deep and damaging” EPA cuts

(Image Source: Pixabay / MGN)

Attorney General Janet Mills joined a coalition of 13 states calling on the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to reject “deep and damaging” cuts in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and anti-environmental riders in federal budget bills.

In a letter to Congressional leadership, the coalition charges that the EPA cuts and riders currently proposed by both houses “will lead to more pollution of our air, water, and communities, and an accompanying increase in damage to public health.” The coalition is urging Congress to pass a final budget that fully funds EPA and omits any anti-environmental riders.

“Maine has been a leader in the fight for clean water and clean air since Senator Ed Muskie championed the original Clean Water Act,” said Attorney General Mills. “In Maine, we hunt, fish, and hike year-round and these proposed cuts to the EPA will severely damage Maine’s environment and economy if passed. Maine’s $6 billion tourist economy, which depends on Maine’s natural resources, will be harmed by these cuts.”

Congress is reported to be negotiating with the Trump Administration on a final fiscal year 2018 budget for the EPA based on the House-passed Interior, Environmental, and Related Agencies FY 2018 appropriations bill (H.R. 3354) and the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman’s Mark for FY 2018 appropriations for these agencies.

While not as severe as the $2.4 billion in EPA cuts originally proposed by the Trump Administration, the House-passed budget bill would still cut the EPA’s budget by $650 million; the Senate bill would cut the EPA’s budget by $150 million. These budget cuts would leave the EPA with its smallest budget since 1986, adjusting for inflation, and would especially devastate the EPA’s core programs, according to Mills.

The bulk of the proposed cuts fall on central activities of EPA – environmental enforcement and compliance assurance, setting environmental standards, issuing permits, monitoring emissions, and providing technical and legal assistance to enforcement, compliance, and oversight. The House reduces funding for EPA’s core programs by 24 percent – an even deeper cut for these programs than proposed in the Trump Administration’s original budget – while the Senate shrinks this funding by 10 percent. The House and Senate budgets would likely cut EPA’s workforce by over one-quarter.

One of the programs important to Maine that is reduced in the Senate proposal is the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which provides grants to Maine school districts, which use them to upgrade to cleaner, more efficient buses. Commercial fisherman also use these grants to convert their boats to cleaner burning engines.

The cuts also threaten funds sent to Maine DEP to monitor and enforce clean air and clean water rules in Maine. But any reduction in enforcement of clean air rules throughout the country will have a significant impact on Maine. Maine has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the nation which is exacerbated by being downwind of coal fired plants in the Midwest. Asthma costs Maine an estimated $14.3 million in lost productivity and nearly $173 million in direct medical costs each year.

Earlier this month Attorney General Mills joined a lawsuit against the EPA for failing to meet Clean Air Act deadlines.

Both the Senate and House follow the Trump Administration’s lead targeting EPA programs that protect the health of disadvantaged communities, proposing a 10 percent and 15 percent cut, respectively, in funding for the EPA Office of Environmental Justice. Further, the House-passed budget attacks funding critical for protecting the health of some of our nation’s most important waterbodies.

The coalition’s letter highlights concerns about the Senate’s proposal to eliminate EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) program, which, among other things, plays a fundamental role in the setting of national drinking water standards. The coalition letter notes that drinking water supplies across the country are now contaminated with the toxic industrial chemicals perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). PFOA and PFOS are currently unregulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, with no national monitoring or enforcement mechanism in place to address their risk to the public. The coalition letter states, “the elimination or reduction of the IRIS program will likely delay, if not end, progress toward effective, science-based regulation of these dangerous chemicals, and toward ensuring the health and safety of the water Americans drink”.