We can’t say we didn’t see it coming. The man who vowed during his presidential campaign “to get rid of” the Environmental Protection Agency has just put out a spending plan that would gut the department. This senseless proposal would devastate the health of our air and water, and Maine’s congressional delegation should speak up loudly and clearly against it.
President Trump’s first budget outline pours money into defense and immigration enforcement while slashing most other programs in the discretionary budget. The biggest cuts would be at the EPA, where Trump wants to roll back spending by 31 percent and eliminate about 3,200 positions, or around 20 percent of the agency’s workforce.
What would this mean for Maine? Nothing good. Funding for upgrades to wastewater treatment plants and drinking water supplies faces a 30 percent cut. So does the so-called “brownfields” program, which helps cities and towns clean up old industrial and mill sites – projects that are often the first step toward creating new economic opportunities in struggling areas.
Also targeted is funding for cleaner, more efficient school buses; to help private landowners pay for fixes to dirt roads that erode into lakes and ponds, and for assistance on testing and treatment to summer camps, campgrounds, small businesses and schools that have wells providing drinking water.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection would be hard hit: The EPA funds over 20 percent of the state agency’s budget and pays for nearly 100 DEP workers. Given that the DEP has already shrunk, from 460 employees in 2004 to 372 today, further staffing cuts would compromise the agency’s ability to carry out its mission.
Maine’s elected representatives in Washington have come out against Trump’s attack on the EPA – mostly. In the March 12 Maine Sunday Telegram, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King called the cuts “deeply troubling.”
King specifically condemned the reduction in brownfields funding, as have Republican Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District. The only one in the delegation who’s made no specific criticisms? U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District: He pledged Thursday to “closely look at any changes to environmental services that directly impact Maine,” but avoided getting into particulars.
The damage done by polluted water and air affects all Maine residents, regardless of political affiliation; likewise, ecological safeguards make everyone’s lives better. Mainers on both sides of the aisle helped craft pioneering federal environmental policies, and our current delegation should honor their legacy by presenting a united front against efforts to dismantle the framework that allows those policies to be implemented.