White House Cuts to Budget Hurt Economy and Strip Health, Safety Protections for Southeasterners
Washington, D.C. – The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) released the following statement after the White House released its budget outline calling for deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Interior (DOI), and critical infrastructure investments, threatening thousands of jobs and health and safety protections for millions of Southeastern families.
“It has been 40 years since we spent this little to protect the clean air and clean water that all residents of the Southeast—and all Americans—now take for granted,” said Nat Mund, SELC Legislative Director. “The Administration’s draconian budget cuts would cripple the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enforce basic protections, jeopardize critical transit projects, endanger the National Parks we love, and hurt local economies by eliminating jobs. These cuts would especially impact the Southeast, where so many state protections and budgets have already been gutted.
“Instead of working to protect American families and build a 21st century economy, President Trump’s plans put the interest of big-money special interests over people. The President claims to support clean air and clean water for all Americans and promises to boost critical infrastructure investments, but his budget says otherwise.”
Across the Southeast, the EPA has upheld our nation’s most critical and longstanding environmental protections, the Department of the Interior has protected special areas that attract locals and tourists alike, and vital transit services provide access to jobs while promoting clean air and growing the economy. The administration’s reported cuts would threaten these essential services and others, including:
• Cleanup: EPA has coordinated and funded the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, an economic boon for the region and a beautiful and special place for residents and visitors alike. The budget blueprint eliminates that funding for this long-needed program.
• Enforcement: The proposed budget cuts critical enforcement funding by 24 percent. When North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality was under criminal investigation for its cozy relations with Duke Energy and not enforcing the law, the Environmental Protection Agency conducted the criminal investigation that resulted in Duke Energy pleading guilty 18 times to nine Clean Water Act crimes at its leaking, unlined coal ash sites across the state.
• Oversight: After substantial and systemic failures of Alabama’s water pollution permitting program and the agency’s abysmal enforcement of clean water safeguards, the EPA stepped in and worked closely with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to make improvements to protect human health and the environment for the citizens of Alabama.
• Grants: The Diesel Emission Reduction Program, which helps communities purchase cleaner school buses, may be completed defunded.
• National Parks: Our region is home to some of the most cherished National Parks in America—from Shenandoah National Park and Congaree National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the nation. They attract visitors from near and far and provide an incredible boost to our local economies. These cuts might force our parks to close for part of the year, threatening an important part of our tourism, outdoor recreation, and sportsman industries.
• Transit: Federal funding has been extremely important for successful transit projects throughout the Southeast. These proposed budget cuts would eliminate all new transit funding, threatening initiatives such as the following:
o Voters in Atlanta approved a sales tax increase in November 2016 that is expected to raise $2.5 billion for expanded transit service in the City. However, the list of transit projects needed in the City is expected to cost more than that amount and was based on the expectation that the federal government would continue to partner with local governments in building these projects.
o In North Carolina, Wake County voters passed a half-cent sales tax last fall to fund an ambitious new transit plan that will include expanded bus service, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail. The plan has been heavily supported by the business community, which knows that a strong transit system is imperative for attracting the highly skilled workers it needs. Without federal investment, however, the plan will not come to fruition.
o Numerous other plans and projects throughout the Southeast, such as Nashville’s $6 billion nMotion Plan and the Richmond Region’s Transit Vision Plan, will require federal transit funds to make them happen.
While the Trump Administration has said it wants to abandon longstanding federal environmental protections and turn the job of enforcement over to the states, the recent trajectory of Southeastern states’ budgets and staffing show that the states are not positioned to take on this critical role. In North Carolina, the state environmental agency’s budget decreased 40% from 2011 to 2013; Virginia’s environmental budget went down 20% from 2009 to 2017. In Tennessee, from 2010 to 2014, the state legislature slashed the base budget of the state Department of Environment and Conservation by $20 million and cut nearly 500 jobs.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org