Environmental reporter Hiboko Tabuchi of the New York Times made the news pages Tuesday with a supposed news story lamenting the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. It was presented both in headline and tone as an editorial: “What’s at Stake in the Cuts Proposed for the E.P.A.”
The photo selection really rubbed in the emotional aspect of the administration’s brutal (proposed) cuts: the large set of four pictures include one showing a man with a hard-hat that spells FLINT, his face downcast, holding a young girl on his shoulder, right above one of a fleet of black security cars for new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Poor vs. privileged?
In Tabuchi’s eyes, the EPA can do no wrong, and any cut or questioning of its massive budget poses a clear and present danger to America, whose states and localities are apparently otherwise defenseless against rampaging polluters. Right from the lead, one wonders if this is an editorial that was accidentally routed to the news section.
What is at stake as Congress considers the E.P.A. budget? Far more than climate change.
The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget are deep and wide-ranging. It seeks to shrink spending by 31 percent, to $5.7 billion from $8.1 billion, and to eliminate a quarter of the agency’s 15,000 jobs.
The cuts are so deep that even Republican lawmakers are expected to push back. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the chairwoman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pointedly reminded Mr. Trump last month that his budget request was just “the first step in a long process.”
Here are some proposed cuts that are likely to face resistance when the budget reaches Congress.
Flint, Mich., is still reeling from its tainted water crisis, and unsafe levels of lead have turned up in tap water in city after city. Still, the E.P.A. is looking to decrease grants that help states monitor public water systems by almost a third, to $71 million from $102 million, according to an internal agency memo first obtained by The Washington Post.
Sharp cuts in the agency’s enforcement programs could curtail its ability to police environmental offenders and impose penalties. The budget proposal reduces spending on civil and criminal enforcement by almost 60 percent, to $4 million from a combined $10 million. It also eliminates 200 jobs.
The E.P.A.’s defunding of these projects could backfire. Much of the federal money has gone toward helping bring affected communities to the table to find solutions. Absent that route, communities could sue the E.P.A. for failing to act, ultimately running up the agency’s legal bills and slowing remediation as cases wind their way through the courts.
She defended as irreplaceable the much-maligned Superfund, a federal program to fund the cleanup of contaminated sites that has long been a symbol of government inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
Tabuchi found in Superfund the magical government program that actually pays for itself, decades of wasteful spending notwithstanding:
The Superfund program can actually save taxpayers money, because it lets the E.P.A. identify polluters and compel them to pay for the cleanup. But the proposed budget reduces its enforcement and remedial components by 45 percent, bringing it to $221 million from $404 million.
The exact science behind, and health consequences of, a class of chemicals called endocrine disrupters [sic] remains unsettled. With the proposed cuts to research at the E.P.A., it could stay that way.
The budget eliminates a $6 million research and screening effort targeting the chemicals, which are found widely in pesticides, plastics, shampoos and cosmetics, cash register receipts, food can linings and other products. The chemicals have been linked to breast cancer in women and hypospadias, a birth defect in boys.
If Tabuchi can’t sell an EPA initiative as pro-environment, she’ll turn around and sell it as pro-business.
It is no surprise that the new E.P.A. is targeting climate change initiatives, given the Trump administration’s hostility toward the science of global warming and a pro-business bent. But many of the programs that fall under the $70 million Climate Protection Program -- which would be eliminated under the White House proposal -- are industry favorites.
And the SmartWay program works with logistics companies to make their operations more climate friendly. SmartWay helps trucking companies fit their trucks with aerodynamic flaps and low-resistance tires, for example, that save fuel and reduce emissions.
Not noted in this collection of government's greatest hits was how the EPA turned a river in Colorado orange with three million gallons of toxic water. The EPA breached the mine, which as USA Today reported,“released more than three million gallons of toxic wastewater into a tributary that feeds the Animas River” in Colorado – then refused to pay damage claims to affected farmers.
An earlier Tabuchi story, “Trump Cuts Cast Doubt on Infrastructure,” also saw federal spending as a wholly worthy gravy train of tax money, except this time the spending would be on infrastructure like light rail.