Environmental Defense Fund (Blog)

These EPA programs are key to hurricane relief efforts. Now Congress wants to cut them?

Programs that help communities deal with hurricanes are on the chopping block as another catastrophic storm approaches our coast.

There is a jarring disconnect in Washington as the Trump administration continues to push for cuts that will hamper the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s disaster response work – just as we deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and watch millions flee Irma, the second catastrophic storm to hit the United States in just over two weeks.

That’s right: Congress is getting ready to vote on bills that would directly affect the EPA’s ability to address urgent health and environmental impacts from major storms.

Lawmakers could move as early as this week on one bill that will fund disaster recovery and another that will gut the EPA’s annual budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1. Both reflect many of the cuts President Trump sought in his budget.

When disasters strike, states desperately need sufficiently staffed and effective federal agencies by their side to deal with petrochemical spills, leaking sewage, flooded Superfund sites, asbestos-containing building debris and a slew of other health threats.

But many EPA programs that help communities deal with such challenges are on the chopping block today. Here are a few:

EPA Homeland Security services: 40% cut

These programs assess public health risks posed by major infrastructure and industrial facilities damaged by wind, flooding or other emergencies. The EPA coordinates closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state authorities to work fast and efficiently in these situations.

EPA Superfund and Brownfield programs: 30% cut

Old and often-toxic industrial sites can leak hazardous contamination into nearby neighborhoods when flooded. These programs monitor and address such threats and help with long-term cleanup.

They also take stock of chemicals and the risks they present, put measures in place to protect people from exposure, and hold polluters accountable when chemicals are released.

EPA air quality monitoring: 30% cut

This work helps communities know when disaster and fires have released hazardous chemicals into the air, which was a concern with the Arkema plant near Houston.

In addition, it provides major financial support to help communities nationwide monitor air quality year-round and warn citizens about Code Red unhealthy air days and other dangers that trigger asthma attacks and other lung problems.

EPA Public Water System Supervision: 30% cut

This program allows the EPA to play a major role organizing water quality safety and mounting responses to disasters, including raw sewage spills and other waterborne hazards that are common after storms.

In Houston, for example, health experts are now warning of E. coli and other bacteria in water-logged neighborhoods, problems that can have profound health effects unless properly monitored.

Of course, these are just a handful of the many programs slated for reduction or elimination under President Trump’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year.

In all, the president is requesting a massive 30-percent cut to the EPA, a budget reduction greater than any other department or agency is facing. It would return the EPA’s real budget to where it was 40-plus years ago. In addition to hampering our ability to help communities devastated by storms, such a cut would have a dramatic impact on public health and the environment everywhere.

Is this what America needs right now?

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