The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality provided a very concrete look at the local effect of President Trump’s proposed 31 percent cut in spending for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In an internal report obtained by Oregon Public Broadcasting, DEQ analysts say the agency may be forced to let go of 14 employees who study and regulate water quality, 11 who monitor air quality and issue air discharge permits and three who oversee handling of hazardous waste.
EPA grants total about $30 million annually and make up 10 percent of DEQ’s budget. DEQ also borrows EPA equipment to monitor air quality.
Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general whom Trump nominated to head EPA, has accused the federal agency of overreach and blamed it for job losses in energy, industrial and agricultural sectors. Pruitt’s fingerprints are on the Trump budget ax for EPA.
If such a severe spending cut in EPA makes it through Congress, the impact may not be felt locally until next year. However, for states such as Oregon that pass 2-year budgets, lawmakers will need to consider whether and how to backfill the anticipated loss of EPA grant dollars. Lawmakers are likely to raise fees for air and water permits to cover at least part of the loss.
DEQ has been under assault for failing to monitor air toxic emissions from Portland glass makers and for lengthy delays in issuing air and water permits. Budget cuts could aggravate both problems. Cutbacks at EPA could complicate and slow down progress on the $1 billion cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund site, as well as other Superfund cleanup efforts such as the one near Klamath Falls. Even though cleanups are largely paid for by responsible parties, EPA oversees them.
Governor Brown raised the specter that DEQ staff cutbacks could ultimately hamper Oregon’s ability to meet federal air and water quality mandates.
The full-on assault by Trump’s team against funding for climate change science could harm research efforts at Oregon State University involving carbon sequestration strategies, ocean temperature monitoring and climate change impacts, such as more intensified storms. Apparently Pruitt has ordered that EPA’s website be scrubbed of climate change references and data. Reportedly, DEQ employees downloaded some of the data before it was scrubbed.
Oregon Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli said reduced EPA and DEQ spending could result in relaxed regulations, which would save industry money. The Trump administration has promised to roll back many regulations, but some of his proposed rollbacks require legislative changes that may be difficult to get through the US Senate.
Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is leading an effort to block the EPA budget cuts, which he says would “devastate America’s clean air and water.” In his statement, Merkley pointed to cuts that would eliminate the Energy Star program, defund the Clean Power Plan, hobble screening that detects chemical exposures posing harm to human health and drop funding to clean up the Columbia River Basin and Puget Sound.
The dilemma facing DEQ and Oregon budget writers is shared by environmental protection agencies in most other states. The only consolation may be misery likes company.