A proposal by the Trump administration to slash the Environmental Protection Agency budget by one-fourth would have a dramatic impact on Minnesota’s ability to protect its citizens from dirty air, polluted water and exposure to toxins, the state’s top environmental official said Thursday.
“It would cut across every area of our work,” said John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “It would hurt the people who look to [our] programs for protecting the quality of their health and the quality of the places they live.”
A budget plan issued by the federal Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, that would cut the EPA by 25 percent and its staff by 19 percent began circulating Thursday morning, sending shock waves through state governments and environmental organizations across the country.
The administration’s full budget is not final and would have to be approved by Congress. New EPA administrator Scott Pruitt reassured mayors who had gathered in Washington, D.C., for a regular meeting that the agency would continue to protect air and water.
But the summary proposal includes the virtual elimination of several major EPA initiatives across the country, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a $300 million effort to clean up decades of industrial pollution of the St. Louis River Estuary in northeastern Minnesota and the harbor in Lake Superior near Duluth.
On Wednesday, even before details of the cuts trickled out, 52 state and territorial environmental officials sent a letter of protest through the Environmental Council of the States. Stine, president of the organization, signed it.
The cutbacks, the letter said, “will have profound impacts on states’ ability to implement the core environmental programs as expected by our citizens.”
According to details made public by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, another state environmental organization, the OMB’s proposal would virtually eliminate funding to states for radon detection and mitigation, cut grants to states for air quality by 30 percent, eliminate money to clean up contaminated brownfield sites and slash funding to study and clean up pharmaceutical contamination in water.
According to national news reports, Pruitt told U.S. mayors Thursday that he would prioritize cleanups of hazardous waste sites and investment in water infrastructure, even though those programs appear to be on the OMB’s chopping block.
“I want you to know that with the White House and also with Congress, I am communicating a message that the brownfields program, the Superfund program and the water infrastructure grants and state revolving funds are essential to protect,” Pruitt said.
In Minnesota, federal funding from the EPA provides about $25 million of the MPCA’s $200 million annual budget. The funds help pay for pollution permitting programs for industry, air and water quality monitoring and cleanup, and clean up of hazardous waste sites, among other things.
“We need people to understand that this work is not just ... abstract,” said Stine. “These are all people and places that are at some level of risk.”
Another group of mayors whose towns border the Mississippi River also made a pitch Thursday to maintain federal funding for water protection.
The mayors, including St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, who is the current president of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative, include 75 from all 10 states that border the river.
Throughout the week, they have presented members of the Trump administration with a detailed infrastructure plan.
At a press briefing, they made the case that their proposed $8 billion infrastructure plan would create 100,000 jobs, maintain 1.5 million jobs in transportation, industry and tourism that already exist, sustain ecological assets like wetlands to mitigate flooding and droughts, and generate $24 billion in economic activity.
But it would mean keeping current funding levels for federal agencies where they are — including the EPA and the Federal Emergency Management Administration — plus $65 million in new money.