News | July 5, 2017

Facing federal budget cuts, Georgia alone cannot bear the brunt of environmental protection

Over the weekend, Gil Rogers, Director of SELC’s Georgia and Alabama offices, explored how environmental rollbacks and budget cuts at the federal level would directly impact Georgia communities in a guest column for the Saporta Report

Though Congress will still be facing major decisions regarding the federal budget following the Fourth of July recess, the piece looks at how the Trump administration’s proposed cuts would cripple the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce basic environmental protections across the Peach State. Funding cuts for essential state and federal programs are especially worrisome as the administration actively dismantles crucial safeguards like the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies protections for waters millions of Georgians depend on for drinking water, recreation, and tourism revenue.

Below is an excerpt of the piece. Read the full guest column here.

On July 4th, many Georgians celebrate by heading outdoors to cool off in rivers and lakes around the state, hike trails around Georgia’s state parks, and enjoy the fireworks after running Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race, the world’s largest 10K.

Yet as celebrations continue across the Peach State, Congress will face big decisions about the federal budget following the Fourth of July recess, and the profound effect it could have on Georgia and all who enjoy its abundant natural resources.

Under the Trump administration’s proposed budget, the Environmental Protection Agency would endure one of the steepest budget cuts of the cabinet-level agencies.

While the blueprint budget is not yet set in stone, moving forward with cuts to critical federal programs would impact millions of Georgia families.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called it a “back-to-basics agenda” that will effectively turn the role of enforcement of environmental safeguards over to the states.

In reality, Mr. Pruitt’s agency would be turning its back on protecting the public from pollution in Georgia and others across the South, where state agency budgets and staff have already been slashed over the past decade.

Although the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s budget has seen meager increases from the state in the past few years, it has also become increasingly dependent on federal funding.

EPD gets more than 30 percent of its funding from the federal government for programs including water quality monitoring, outreach, education, and environmental restoration projects.

If EPA is weakened to the breaking point, EPD will not be able to suddenly get the state support needed to fill this significant federal funding void.

In addition to the extreme budget cuts to essential federal programs, communities across Georgia will be impacted by rollbacks to basic environmental safeguards.

Last week, the Trump administration announced a proposal to repeal the Clean Water Rule as a first step in dismantling water quality protections under Clean Water Act. This action would put important streams and wetlands at risk of pollution, threatening our drinking water supplies and outdoor recreation economies that generate $23.3 billion in consumer spending, 231,000 jobs, $7 billion in wages, and $1.4 billion in state and local tax revenue in Georgia.

These actions aren’t slight reductions to a faceless agency or well-intentioned efforts to curb pointless regulations; they will have real effects on the ground in Georgia communities.

Congress must cast this backward budget aside and start over with a focus on safeguarding our communities and environment. The administration’s polluter-friendly agenda will ruin the natural resources that make Georgia a desirable place to live, work, and raise families.