Editorial: Moderation needed in EPA cuts

Editorial: Moderation needed in EPA cuts

Orangeburg Times and Democrat
November 15, 2017

Moderation is usually best. But it appears to be lost in modern-day Washington. The fight is always over extreme proposals.

A case in point: The Trump administration has proposed cutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent, largely aiming at climate programs that grew under President Barack Obama.

While reduction in regulation was promised by Trump and in many instances is overdue, it’s hard to see how cutting by a third an agency that has been instrumental in protecting Americans can be a good thing.

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce is out front in arguing that EPA reductions stand to do harm to places in South Carolina that most need protection.

Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the SCSBCC, said the rural counties of South Carolina’s Interstate 95 Corridor stand to be big losers.

“Our elected leaders always want to generate more economic development for these rural counties,” Knapp said. “Well, the foundation for economic growth includes healthy workers and clean environment.”

Knapp linked his organization with the New Alpha Community Development Corporation in an effort to educate small business owners in the 17 counties that border I-95 about what is at stake – and have them reach out to the state’s congressional delegation.

The SCSBCC says key risks in South Carolina include:

  • A reduction of $2.5 million in funds to help protect drinking water.
  • Elimination of programs to help children poisoned by lead.
  • Cuts of up to 33 percent in funds for cleanup of toxic dumps. South Carolina has 25 major toxic sites and 267 less-contaminated sites that need to be cleaned up, SCSBCC says.
  • “Rural families threatened by industrial hazardous waste, radioactive materials and toxic chemicals that cause cancer, reproductive harm and other damaging health impacts.”

Knapp and the SCSBCC are pointing at the I-95 Corridor because history shows the poorest of locales generally are impacted worst when efforts to clean up and make other improvements are curbed. Already the I-95 counties are known as “the corridor of shame” because of education inequalities.

In late October, the SCSBCC presented to South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham petitions with signatures representing more than 270 small businesses, organizations and residents along the I-95 corridor in support of maintaining if not increasing the EPA budget.

Graham plays an important role in the U.S. Senate’s budget-writing process. His support for the EPA budget is critical, Knapp said.

To date, the U.S. House appears unwilling to go along with Trump’s extreme cuts at EPA, proposing to reduce the agency’s budget by 6.6 percent.

“That is a lot better than the Trump administration proposal,” Knapp said, citing House support for increases in the EPA Superfund budget that he says are critical.

In a letter to Graham urging support for EPA funding, Knapp stated:

“Recently the EPA has indicated that it might take two actions directly related to its budget that will negatively impact the enforcement of our nation’s environmental laws and relegate our state’s Superfund sites to remain as a threat to communities.

“The first action would be to stop providing funds to the Justice Department for taking legal action against the hazardous waste polluters of today’s Superfund sites. Essentially this would be telling future polluters that there is no sheriff on duty so pollute at will.

“Second, both the Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have told Congress that for the EPA to achieve its goal to speed cleanup of Superfund sites, the agency needs more staffing and funding. Without that happening the EPA is planning to prioritize Superfund sites. It should be expected that such prioritization will mean most of the nation’s over 1,300 Superfund sites including South Carolina’s 35 will never be cleaned up thus subjecting their communities to future toxic contamination.”

Knapp and the SCSBCC are unlikely to win the day. Cuts are coming at EPA. But they should be targeted and should not be so extreme as to put the agency at risk of being unable to fulfill the mission of protection that Americans in many instances take for granted. There remains much work to do in protecting the environment, particularly in locations such as the I-95 Corridor.