Friday, March 10, 2017

What Slashing the EPA's Budget by One-Quarter Would Really Mean

The agency's funding would fall to its lowest point since the Ford administration, and climate change efforts, some little known, are expected to suffer deeply.

Donald Trump displays Executive Order (Credit: Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
Trump's proposed cuts to the EPA, floated in leaked internal memos and vague announcements, appear to single out climate change programs for cancellation, making good on his campaign promise to "unleash" fossil fuel production.  And because so many types of pollution are created by producing and burning fossil fuels, the assault on climate protections could also affect EPA actions that don't address climate change directly—including those that deal with pollutants like smog, soot, acid rain and mercury, or with cleanup operations, or sewage.

The climate cuts would also hit agency research studying ways global warming is affecting EPA's mission to protect the public against day-to-day pollution.

"You can't separate urban air quality and ozone levels from the impacts of weather," said Thomas Burke, an associate dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "You can't build a sustainable community anymore without thinking about controlling for very extreme climate events."

He cited the case of Toledo, Ohio's drinking water crisis in 2014, when the water supply was shut down because of a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie—an acute symptom of a chronic climate disease.

"When you examine why that algal bloom is there," he said, "you have to look at things like water temperatures are different, and storm events that are different."

Burke, who led scientific research at EPA in the final years of the Obama administration, was one of three bipartisan agency veterans to plead last week in the New England Journal of Medicine against cuts in environmental protection, including climate action.

One career EPA official who is knowledgeable about the agency's climate programs but asked not to be named, lamented how little is known about the agency's climate work and its connection to clean air and water.  "A lot of people look at EPA and they think we do these big global climate models.  That's not what we do," the official said.  "We focus on how we at EPA are going to be able to meet our requirements for clean air and clean water—what's in the law for us to do—as the climate changes."

The 30 agency scientists who focus on climate, for instance, recently tackled issues such as how worsening wildfires affect air quality; how drinking water treatment is affected by extreme weather; and how to stop the release of toxic contaminants from waste sites during flooding.

"Everything we do [at EPA] is related to climate change, and climate change is related to everything we do," the official said.  "It's another stressor, another component of risk we have to account for."

Because it's unlikely other government agencies will take up that effort, and the private sector has no incentive to do it,  "that's why we're involved," the official said.  "The states turn to us."

The Trump team is working from a blueprint budget developed by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that rejects the prevailing scientific consensus on climate change and the need to urgently address it, including at the EPA.

Its blueprint would end the effort to regulate greenhouse gases in vehicles, power plants or other man-made sources.  It would eliminate the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, under which industrial facilities have been reporting their carbon emissions since 2010.  It would stop "climate resilience" funding, like the grants to help coastal communities protect and enhance wetlands to protect against sea level rise and storm surge.

Read more at What Slashing the EPA's Budget by One-Quarter Would Really Mean

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