In a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, attorneys general from 12 states and the District of Columbia expressed their opposition to all legislation or budgetary measures that would reduce funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the many crucial programs the agency oversees.
Spearheaded by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, the letter was signed by attorneys general from Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington D.C
In the White House's 2018 budget blueprint, the President has proposed a 31 percent cut to the EPA's budget, the biggest cut of any federal agency.
In the letter, the attorneys general reference the great improvements in the quality of the nation's air, water and natural resources over the past decades, and fear what the impact of the proposed rollback in funding would mean. The letter states:
"In the almost fifty years since the EPA was established our nation's air, water and other natural resources have become much cleaner, and the health and quality of life for millions of Americans has greatly improved. Decimating the EPA and states' ability to enforce the nation's environmental laws would bring us back to the dark days of environmental regulation before establishment of EPA in 1970, with rampant and toxic air pollution, devastating discharges of industrial effluents and raw sewage into our waterways, poisoning of drinking water by the uncontrolled dumping of hazardous waste, and the harmful effects of unchecked environmental degradation on our health and quality of life."
Draconian cuts to the EPA would have a significant impact on states' ability to implement, regulate, and enforce environmental laws.
In Rhode Island, the Department of Environmental Management receives about $10 million in federal funding each year from the EPA, which equates to 30% of the annual operating budget for the Department's Bureau of Environmental Protection. Reducing this funding would critically damage the Department's ability to safeguard clean air and water, ensure the proper management of waste materials, and compel the cleanup and restoration of impacted lands.
The EPA also provides grants to the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which have facilitated hundreds of wastewater, storm water, nonpoint sources, and green infrastructure projects throughout Rhode Island.
"Rhode Island has benefitted greatly from the EPA and the Agency's policies to improve the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the natural resources we enjoy. We have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the EPA in enforcing our environmental laws and holding polluters accountable. Loss of funding of this magnitude for the EPA, and in turn, Rhode Island's environmental agencies, will have a significant and detrimental impact on our ability to protect our state's natural resources," said Attorney General Kilmartin.
The attorneys general cite concerns that the proposed cuts or defunding of the EPA would have a chilling effect on the ability to hold polluters accountable. They write:
"…the EPA's ability to initiate a separate parallel enforcement action on federally delegated programs supports state enforcement actions in a consistent manner, without interference or favoritism, since there is always a "watch dog" to ensure federal law is being implemented on, at least, a baseline level across the country. Removal of this backstop would remove the federal law enforcement "floor" on state responses to federal violations, potentially creating a scenario where conduct that violates federal law is enforced in some states, but not in others. The resulting "uneven playing field" would create competitive imbalances for businesses and does not consistently protect the public from environmental harm."
Additionally, loss of funding for EPA would critically harm the health of thousands of individuals, and allow large private and federal facilities to evade environmental regulation, setting America's environmental policies back decades and potentially causing irreparable harm to critical natural resources.
In closing, the attorneys general remind the House and Senate committee of the positive impact the EPA and its policies have had on the country, writing:
"Since 1970, the EPA has steadily undertaken actions that have greatly improved our nation's environment, health and quality of life. These actions should be applauded and must have our continued investment and attention. A clean and healthy environment is part of what truly makes America great."
This is the latest effort by Attorney General Kilmartin to preserve the EPA and environmental regulations that have come under fire by the new Administration. Kilmartin publicly opposed the appointment of Scott Pruitt as Director of the EPA, and just recently he joined forces with a coalition of attorneys general decrying Trump's executive order rolling back the Clean Power Plan and the rollback of vehicle emission standards.
"The President's recent actions represent a dramatic wrong turn in our nation's efforts to move forward with sound environmental policies based on science, and weakens our ability to protect our environment as well as the health and safety of our citizens. These measures, and the proposed budget cuts to the EPA, will have significant repercussions for decades if they are allowed to move forward," concluded Kilmartin.