EPA Budget Cuts Threaten a Program Near You

March 14, 2017

TipSheet: EPA Budget Cuts Threaten a Program Near You

Leaked Trump White House proposals for drastic budget cuts across a range of environmental agencies have sparked concern from many. While environmental reporters should remember that any president’s budget is just the starting point in a debate that is settled by Congress, the broad scope of Trump’s hoped-for cuts suggest a big shakeout and many stories of local, state and regional importance.

Examples: Trump’s proposed cuts to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency programs for the Great Lakes (97%) and the Chesapeake Bay (93%) are already generating pushback and making news.

In the case of the Great Lakes Restoration Program, the reported near-deletion brought swift and bipartisan condemnation and pushback from politicians, officials and editorialists in the eight states bordering the lakes, which have their own bipartisan caucus in Congress.

Chicago and Toledo are just two of the many cities that get their drinking water from the Great Lakes. And killing EPA protections for the Great Lakes was hardly what won Trump the key swing states of Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan.

Budget-cut stories out of EPA regional offices, research labs

Environmental journalists in almost any part of the country can find stories about how the Trump environmental budget proposals hit home. There is a story about EPA Puget Sound programs, for instance, to go with the one in the Great Lakes. Same thing around San Francisco Bay.

One way to look for the stories: EPA’s 10 regional offices. Each one has programs that matter to people in your area. Each faces cuts under the Trump budget. (In fact, Trump reportedly may propose closing two regional offices.)

Another way in: the extensive archipelago or EPA research labs, field offices and special program offices. These are scattered around the country for reasons that are often geographical necessities (to study radioactivity in Nevada, cars in Michigan, Pacific ecosystems in Oregon or fisheries in Florida). But face it, they also amount to a widespread basis for political support.

Yet another lens into what EPA budget cuts may mean for your area is grants. It turns out the lion’s share of EPA’s budget doesn’t go to Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, but to state and local governments who will feel the biggest actual pain of cuts. Grants also go to research studies, nonprofits and other organizations.

You can explore this universe with EPA’s grant awards database. It gives geographic information, but is not easily searchable by location.

State loan funds also under the gun

An Ohio woman holds a jar of undrinkable water from her well in 1973, one year before the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA funding for the act may now be reduced. PHOTO:  Erik Calonius, DOCUMERICA, Flickr Creative Commons

An Ohio woman holds a jar of undrinkable water from her well in 1973, one year before the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA funding under the act may now be reduced. PHOTO: Erik Calonius, DOCUMERICA, Flickr Creative Commons

Pay special attention to EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund, or CWSRF, and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, or DWSRF. These are essentially loan funds that help states and communities build or upgrade things like sewage treatment plants under the CWSRF and drinking water treatment plants under the DWSRF.

You can view the divvy-up by state for both the CWSRF and the DWSRF. The new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has talked about giving more responsibility to the states — but the White House is proposing giving them 30% less money to do the job with.

EPA also has a database of the roughly 625 contracts it awards to get its work done. Some may mean a significant number of jobs for your area.

Two programs where EPA has a big local impact that journalists can report are its Superfund and Brownfields programs.

Superfund is aimed at stabilizing and cleaning up the worst hazardous waste sites in the country (currently a list of about 1,300). Brownfields is a program for somewhat less hazardous waste sites (currently a list of about 450,000), aimed at cleaning them up enough so that they can be put to some safe and beneficial use.

The funding schemes for these programs are complex, and rely on money from polluters and the states to a great extent. But federal money often gets the cleanup started.

Other environmental agencies face cuts

EPA is not the only agency marked for the Trump administration’s wrecking ball.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a hallmark agency for climate research, is another. NOAA’s Sea Grant programs, which support maritime industries, are also slated for elimination. There are 33 of them in coastal states and territories — which works out to a lot of senators and Congress members who may have a stake. [Editor’s Note: We’ll have more on finding stories around NOAA budget cuts in a future TipSheet].

Trump is currently expected to send Congress his “budget blueprint” by mid-March and a fuller budget later. The question remains open whether Congress will take it seriously.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 2, No. 11. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main pageSubscribe to the e-newsletter here.  And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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