Hundreds of environmental advocates rallied in Fort Collins yesterday on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency. The worried Front Range residents feared cuts to the agency budget of up to 25 percent.
Today, President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint confirmed their fears: Trump is proposing to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent next year — $2.6 billion less in funding than in 2017.
The president does not draft the nation’s spending plan, Congress does and it will begin working on that budget in the coming months. As Republican Rep. Mike Coffman reminded callers on his tele-townhall last night, the president’s budget is “an aspirational budget,” and Congress’ own budget “may or may not reflect the president’s.” He didn’t offer further specifics about the proposed cuts except to say that he thought the Pentagon bureaucracy could stand some more pruning.
Still, the proposed EPA cuts signal a marked departure from the prioritization of environmental protection under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Holding signs with messages like “Keep the EPA, dismantle the oil lobby,” “No alternative science” and “Scientists will not be silenced,” those in attendance called upon Colorado’s elected officials, particularly Sen. Michael Bennet, to stand up for Colorado’s environment.
They praised Bennet’s votes against Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former oilman, and EPA leader Scott Pruitt, who just last week said that carbon dioxide is not a major contributor to global warming. Still, they urged, “that’s not enough.”
More specifically, those at the rally asked the senator to oppose Congressional efforts to weaken environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, to oppose the replacement of federal environmental regulations with those that are market-based and to defend all budget cuts to the EPA.
Event organizer Salome Garcia of Food and Water Watch read a statement from Bennet in which the senator promised he would continue to defend environmental protections.
Doug Henderson of environmental group Colorado 350 said, “I wish that we could thank our other senator…but we know how Senator [Cory] Gardner voted.” Gardner voted for all of Trump’s nominees, including Tillerson and Pruitt.
Garcia later pointed out the effects Trump’s administration has so far had on the scientific community. “We have seen grants for scientific and environmental research frozen, federal agencies be silenced, and people all around the world confused and scared at what this means for our communities and for the future of our environment,” she said.
Former EPA employee Carol Campbell, who worked with the agency for more than 30 years, explained to the crowd that the EPA sets and approves state standards for clean air and water, and undertakes enforcement efforts when states don’t. Agency programs such as the Waters of the US Rule, which passed under the Obama administration and has not yet gone into effect, would protect even those Colorado streams and waterways — and they are many — that don’t flow year round. EPA Superfund funding allowed the cleanup efforts of Rocky Flats and the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Superfund money also went toward cleanup of the Gold King Mine spill, an accidental release of contaminated water for the EPA took responsibility.
Trump’s blueprint anticipates that the cut will eliminate 3,200 positions at the EPA. Here in Colorado, the agency employs 610 workers, many at its Region 8 headquarters in downtown Denver. Pruitt has signaled that Region 8, which includes Colorado and other western states, may be “consolidated” with another region. That could potentially put the Denver regional office on the chopping block.
The impacts of the funding cuts go deeper than job loss. CSU graduate student Jenna Parker, whose conservation biology research centers around African elephants, described her fear, and that of her professors, that vital research funding could be cut.
“Our fear extends past that of losing employment opportunities,” she said. “An attack on science, such as we have seen by recent decisions of the Trump administration, is an attack on truth… History has shown that such censorship of information has dire consequences when left unchecked.”
Food and Water Watch will deliver more than 500 petition signatures to the office of Sen. Bennet next week to urge him to sign on to a national pledge to protect the EPA.
Photo by Kelsey Ray