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Federal Cuts at EPA Will Trickle Down to Pennsylvania

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to drastically reduce the size and scope of the Environmental Protection Agency. A memo by the White House Office of Management and Budget indicates that’s still the plan. The memo outlines a proposed 25 percent cut to EPA’s $8-billion budget, including reductions in state grants for clean air and water programs.

David Hess, who was secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the 1990s, says that’s a big deal: Nearly a third of the DEP’s budget comes from the EPA.

“It helps pay for air pollution reduction, regulating underground storage tanks — there are a whole lot of programs that EPA money pays for, including things like stream restoration,” Hess says.

Hess says the DEP already has fewer resources than it needs to do its job. The department has been operating with reduced staff, and its share of the state’s general fund has been cut by 40 percent over the last 14 years.

“The department has been in triage mode, really for the last decade,” Hess says.

It’s simple math, Hess says: There simply aren’t enough people working at DEP to keep up with thousands of permit applications or inspections. In fact, late last year, DEP received a letter from the EPA admonishing the agency for failing to conduct the minimum number of inspections of drinking water systems across the state. Hess says losing EPA funding won’t help.

“Any cut in those monies will bring real problems to the agency.”

Hess says it’s not just the environment that loses out if DEP doesn’t review permits in a timely manner. It holds up business and development, which costs Pennsylvania money. He says slashing regulations isn’t the answer either.

“I certainly agree with people that things can be simplified, but it’s got to be simplified and streamlined without getting rid of protection.”

Reporting by Kara Holsopple


Trump Puts Great Lakes Funding on the Chopping Block

In the late 1960s, Lake Erie was a poster child for pollution. But after environmental reforms, it went from what some considered a dead lake to a new life as the Walleye Capital of the World.

But proposed EPA budget cuts could reduce funding for Great Lakes restoration projects by as much as 97 percent. That would mean $290 million less coming to the region. Ohio State University biologist Jeff Reutter says that would be devastating. He’s particularly worried about recent algae blooms on the lake.

“Lake Erie won’t manage itself,” Reutter says. “Without a strong EPA, Lake Erie is likely to continue to deteriorate and go back to the conditions that we had in the 1970s.”

The Great Lakes congressional delegation is doing what it can to fight the proposed cuts. Some lawmakers have written to President Trump about efforts to stop invasive Asian carp from entering the Lakes, which lawmakers say must be continued to preserve the region’s multi-billion-dollar recreation industry. And Molly Flanagan, who works with the nonprofit Alliance for the Great Lakes, says even a day at the beach could become dangerous.

“The funding of beach monitoring is really critical to protecting public health, because the monitoring and the notification programs are what let you and your family know whether it’s safe to swim,” Flanagan says.

Nonetheless, Flanagan remains optimistic. She says efforts to restore the Great Lakes enjoy immense bipartisan support, and she hopes lawmakers will be able to fight the cuts.

Reporting by Julie Grant