WASHINGTON — As Republicans in Congress rush through a partisan spending bill this week that could cripple many important initiatives at the Environmental Protection Agency, I’ve been thinking about Maine Sen. Edmund S. Muskie.

A giant of Maine politics, Sen. Muskie grew up in humble surroundings in the mill town of Rumford, through which the mighty Androscoggin River flowed. His affection for the river grew over his lifetime, as did his concern for it.

From open pipes, toxins poured directly into the water from mills along the length of the river, leaving it reeking, unsafe and, in many places, devoid of aquatic life.

As a senator, Muskie pledged to do something about it. He wrote the Clean Water Act, which stopped some of the worst sources of direct pollutants into waterways, and expanded the EPA’s authority.

ANDROSCOGGIN SAVED

Passed over President Richard Nixon’s veto in 1972, the law, as enforced by the EPA, led to incredible success stories. Today, Muskie’s own Androscoggin is no longer an eyesore, but a beautiful asset that benefits the economic and cultural lives of the communities along its banks. The same transformation took place on hundreds of waterways in Maine and across the country.

In many other ways, the EPA has made our state a healthier place to live. To name just a few, it has helped clean up polluted sites so they can be redeveloped, kept Maine children from getting exposed to lead and curbed industrial emissions from other states, which, because of prevailing winds, tend to get deposited in Maine.

With Administrator Scott Pruitt leading the EPA, the Trump administration has been doing its best to dismantle and weaken these kinds of initiatives, while shirking its responsibility to protect the nation’s environmental health. It has turned its back on addressing the problems of climate change – which Maine is already seeing; it’s doubled down on promoting dirty fossil fuels, and it’s allowed corporate polluters to rewrite the rules that were supposed to hold them accountable. Republicans in Congress are now trying to do the same with this partisan spending package.

WAGING ASSAULT

It is difficult to overstate the degree to which the Republicans are waging an assault on the health of vulnerable communities in my district and across the country. Both House and Senate Republicans have proposed significant cuts to the very agencies and programs responsible for keeping harmful chemicals out of the faucets in our homes and preventing the air from becoming thick with dangerous toxins.

Republicans are using the budget debate to gut the EPA. President Trump proposed a 30 percent reduction in the agency’s budget. The most recent Republican budget plans include double-digit reductions to clean air programs, water-quality protection and safe-drinking programs that keep our water clean.

The budget proposals offered by Republicans also take aim at funding for compliance and enforcement, weakening the government’s ability to curb pollution and hold accountable the corporations that dump dangerous chemicals into our waterways, public spaces and backyards.

These moves will pad corporate profits in the short term, but could saddle communities with environmental hazards that cost millions of dollars to address in the future.

If playing politics with our health wasn’t enough, Republican budget proposals also threaten our public lands, oceans and larger environment. Even the Republican tax plan has taken a swipe at the environment, by opening up the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

LONG LEGACY

Maine has a long legacy of caring for our environment, because in so many ways it has taken care of us. What was true in Sen. Muskie’s time remains true today: Mainers depend on the environment for our economy, our health and our way of life. We hope many generations to come get the same opportunity.

I cannot support a dirty budget proposal that puts these things at risk. As the funding deadline quickly approaches, I hope Republicans will start working with Democrats in good faith to put forth legislation that does not jeopardize the water we drink or the air we breathe. We can’t afford to undo the work that Sen. Muskie set in motion.