As Pruitt Visits Congress to Discuss Massive EPA Cuts, Don't Lose Sight of Important but Less Visible Damage

by Evan Isaacson

June 14, 2017

With a massive, proposed 31 percent cut to his agency looming in the background, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is preparing to visit Capitol Hill for an appearance before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday. Lawmakers, their staff, and others are likely and understandably focused on the Paris climate agreement withdrawal, the Trump administration's proposal to end federal financial support for programs that help protect and restore a variety of Great Waters like the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, and damaging staff cuts that would cripple the agency's ability to protect our health and our environment. But we should be looking beyond the big-ticket items to fully assess the damage that Pruitt and President Trump are proposing to do. 

As someone who focuses on the vitality and sustainability of the Chesapeake Bay and other Great Waters in the United States, I'm convinced that the president's plans to zero out funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative will do grave harm to these vital waterbodies. Moreover, apart from zeroing out those programs, the Trump-Pruitt cuts to staff, proposals to close regional offices and eliminate other programs, and rumors about 'reorganizing' the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) to make it less effective would do major damage to efforts to restore our cherished waters and protect these resources and the communities that depend on them. 

Regional and state-level work and enforcement is where the rubber meets the road for the Chesapeake and Great Lakes programs, and having an enforcement referee in place can keep states and entire regions on track to meet their environmental and public health goals. Take that away, and you greatly reduce the chance that we'll ultimately be successful in reducing pollution, restoring ecosystems and fisheries, and improving the quality of life of the people and communities who rely on these resources. The proposal to cut the budget for enforcement by nearly one quarter would certainly put an end to environmental progress and could make America heavily polluted again. 

In her testimony on Tuesday, the nominee to lead OECA stated that compliance with environmental laws will remain the office’s ultimate goal. Susan Bodine committed to "maintain an enforcement presence" and to create a "deterrent effect" to prevent pollution. None of this is possible, however, under the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget cuts, which will slash the agency to historically low levels. Worse, the budget is inconsistent with even the most basic expectations of the American people for clean air and water.

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Evan Isaacson, J.D., is a CPR Policy Analyst. He joined the organization in 2015 to work on its Chesapeake Bay program, having previously worked as a policy analyst at the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

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