President Trump is fulfilling a campaign promise in his new, proposed federal budget. It slashes the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31 percent. But some advocates are sounding the alarm. “We have to have a healthy enforcement of both our federal and state environmental laws in order to keep those resources protected,” says Gil Rogers, Southern Environmental Law Center,
The Southern Environmental Law Center says the plan is apparently to push more pollution control enforcement back to states. “That’s going to have a profound impact on not just Georgia but the southeast as a whole,” says Rogers. “This is a region that’s already cut its own state agencies environmental budgets back substantially over the last ten years.”
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) says state funding has actually increased since 2009. Still, there are fewer staff now. The EPD provided figures saying in 2009, the state of Georgia contributed $33 million to the EPD budget while the federal portion was a little over $23 million. In 2017, the state expenditure is listed as over $46 million while the federal portion is a little over $40 million. The EPD also provided figures saying that in 2016, expenditures for staff were about $2 million less than those in 2009. (In 2009, there were 889 full-time EPD employees. In 2016, that number was down to 677.) The EPD says many staff may work in enforcement along with other types of jobs.
“They are working on a shoestring budget with few resources so if their resouces that are coming from the federal government get cut off as well – the only people that are going to suffer are Georgia citizens.” says Emily Markestyn, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper,
Markestyn says not everyone locally may realize it but says the EPA was an important resource in 2011 after the fish kill on the Ogeechee River. “The federal government even though they weren’t front and center in the public eye they were involved with the investigation of that fish kill,” she said. “So had their budget been cut back then I don’t know what kind or resources could have been given and the state may have had a more difficult time you know as we already did during that time so it’s scary to think about..”
The federal government has contributed a little more than $40 million to the EPD budget this year. If that amount was cut by the recommended 31 percent, that would the state about $12 million less. “I think if people understand what these cuts are going to mean in terms of real world enforcement of our pollution laws I think they should be very concerned,” said Rogers.
The EPD told us it is too early to speculate on what the proposed budget might mean for Georgia.