Cuts to the EPA’s Funding Cuts Out the Prioritization of Human Health

Cuts to the EPA’s Funding Cuts Out the Prioritization of Human Health

The Environmental Protection Agency represents an essential mechanism in the overall health of the United States, its citizens, and the larger planet itself. Through developing and enforcing regulations, funding local and statewide environmental programs, studying and publishing research regarding environmental topics, and educating the public on environmental care and consciousness, the EPA impacts the daily lives of all Americans and their overall health and quality of life.[1] According to the agency, one of its top goals is to ensure that “all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.”[1] However, despite this logical and essential mission, recent developments in the political sphere threaten to disrupt the EPA’s ability to operate effectively. In the process, the overall health of our country could be threatened, meaning that changing environmental policy and funding not only poses an issue for proper protection of the environment, but also unearths an ethical issue: choosing political motivations in business and war at the potential expense of citizens’ health.

President Trump’s administration plans to cut 25% of the EPA’s annual budget, dropping it from $8.2 billion to $6.1 billion, and reduce the agency’s staff by about one-fifth, from 15,000 to 12,000.[2] Further, under Trump’s plan, 38 individual environmental programs would be completely gutted, in effect stalling environmental efforts in many sectors and areas across the nation at a time when environmental awareness and protection efforts are incredibly essential.[2] For instance, grants to restore brownfield sites, 25,000 of which have received funding to clean up toxic waste and contaminants, would disappear despite the existence of an estimated 450,000 brownfields nationwide.[2] Funding to reduce marine pollution would be scrapped, impacting cleanup efforts in waterways including the Great Lakes.[3] In fact, the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, a focus of many environmentalists due to the estuary’s size and connection to many smaller bodies of water, is on track to receive a mere $5 million in funding next fiscal year, compared to the current amount of $73 million.[2] All of these changes will prevent the EPA from fully achieving its objectives, despite the growing support within the scientific community of increased environmental regulation to save and restore the planet. Science and politics, it appears, are at odds.

Despite these drastic changes in the EPA’s funding, Trump has stated that he wants to promote clean air and water.[4] The responsibility of ensuring clean air and water largely falls on the states, a designation supported by Trump and new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, both of whom see the issue of environmental protection as best left to the states.[4] However, the proposed adjustments of the EPA’s funding would reduce state grants by roughly 30%, meaning that grants to support the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act would be reduced.[4] These laws are crucial tools in controlling US pollution and ensuring citizens’ safety both now and in years to come. In cutting funding, the government would thereby threaten the overall health of the US population. Environmental programs such as those created under the Obama Administration are there for a reason: modern technology, factories, big business, transportation, and fuels all threaten the livability of the country and therefore must be a fundamental concern for the government. Cutting the EPA’s funding is consequently ethically questionable, as the decreased budget signifies a direct threat to the environment, quality of air and water, and thus human health.

While cutting EPA funding is ethically problematic, the intended use of the money saved through crippling the EPA is also questionable. According to a document summarizing the intended plans, “the administration’s 2018 budget blueprint will prioritize rebuilding the military and making critical investments in the nation’s security,” as Trump’s administration hopes to pump an additional $54 billion into the Department of Defense.[2,5] However, US defense already has a budget of nearly $600 billion compared to the EPA’s meagre budget of $8.2 million.[3] The Trump Administration noted that its plan regarding the EPA will help “identify the savings and efficiencies needed to keep the nation on a responsible fiscal path.”[2] Yet, EPA spending makes up just 0.2% of total mandatory annual spending for the US government, meaning cutting its finding will barely make a dent in economically assisting Trump’s military goals, while simultaneously taking away key programs, grants, and outcomes made possible by the EPA.[5] In fact, if the money saved on the EPA were to be used for the Department of Defense, it would provide funding for just over 30 hours of military activity.[5] This small window of time would thus be gained at the sacrifice of the health of a nation and would interfere with cleanup projects, global warming prevention, and pollution reduction efforts. The impacts of the EPA are long-term and benefit generations to come by working towards a healthier planet and population, meaning we must consider: are we making responsible decisions for the livelihood of the US? If funding is being taken from environmental programs, the answer cannot be yes.

While scientists at an international level overwhelmingly view environmental protection as essential, the current US government under Trump threatens scientific reality, and thus public health, in the pursuit of big-business interests and military spending. Under Trump’s plan, climate initiatives will see a 70 percent budget reduction.[3] Trump himself, back in 2012, tweeted that global warming is a “hoax,” and despite now admitting that there is likely “some connectivity” between human actions and climate changes, his willingness to cut EPA funding suggests a lack of required understanding about the seriousness of environmental changes.[6] Further, Trump’s pick for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, recently commented that the extent to which human activity plays a role in global warming remains unclear, resulting in an outcry from the scientific community.[5,6] Pruitt, prior to assuming his new role, protested the Obama administration’s Clean Power Act and sued the EPA more than a dozen times over its regulations of mercury pollution, smog, and carbon emissions from power plants, indicating his partiality against environmental protection efforts.[2,5] While environmental regulation may interfere with big business interests, it does so for good reason: pollution, and the toxic environments created through industrial development, are hazardous both to nature and to human health. Consequently, having an anti-environmental protection advocate as the voice of the EPA is immensely problematic if the US is to work towards a cleaner, safer country.

The Trump administration’s plan may not seem to be jeopardizing to public health initially, but especially in poor communities of color, the devastation that will result from diminishing environmental cleanup and protection efforts is far more clear. Under the proposed EPA budget changes, the Environmental Justice Office, which helps ensure that minority and low-income populations are treated equally under environmental laws, may be defunded.[4] The groups served by the Environmental Justice Office tend to live in heavily urbanized, polluted areas and are therefore more directly affected by pollution and unclean air and water, which can cause premature death. In fact, black children are twice as likely to have asthma than white children, and nearly half of the Hispanic populations in the US live in counties that fail to meet EPA air quality standards.[3] Additionally, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan provides a clear indication of the dire need to invest in environmental safety- in a developed country like the US, the fact that some areas of the country lack access to clean water suggests a huge public health issue that will simply be exasperated under the new changes to the EPA. In cutting EPA funding, poor minority groups will suffer even more from a lack of funding, leading to an increase in the toxicity of urban environments.

The proposed changes to the EPA are, on the surface, unfortunate to those who seek to create a less-polluted planet. However, digging further, the changes are also ethically unjustifiable. Investing in businesses and the military is certainly important for the success of the nation, but in limiting environmental funding, protection, and regulation, the government reduces the importance of human health as a priority, which should not be the case. As a nation, we should be investing not only in the current success of the nation, but also in the future of our country for generations to come. While having a strong US defense is part of this, so is creating a country that is physically habitable. Although the US remains ahead of many countries in terms of air and water quality, taking away EPA funding threatens the quality of living for citizens, as the EPA’s programs are crucial in creating a safe environment and reducing pollution. Even more so, however, taking away this funding is itself a threat to human health- something that should be an inherent right of all citizens. No American should have to live with toxic waste in their backyard, or without access to clean water, and in reducing the EPA budget, the Trump administration will intensify the environmental issues that exist today.

Sources:

  1. “Our Mission and What We Do.” EPA. https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/our-mission-and-what-we-do

  2. Eilperin, Judy and Dennis, Brady. “White House eyes plan to cut EPA staff by one-fifth, eliminating key programs.” The Washington Post. Published March 1, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/03/01/white-house-proposes-cutting-epa-staff-by-one-fifth-eliminating-key-programs/?utm_term=.f365df8c3e17

  3. Milman, Oliver. “EPA cuts will hit minority communities hardest.” High Country News. Published March 7, 2017. http://www.hcn.org/articles/epa-cuts-will-hit-black-and-hispanic-communities-the-hardest

  4. Worland, Justin. “What President Trump's Proposed EPA Budget Cuts Mean for Your Health.” TIME. Published March 2, 2017. http://time.com/4688753/donald-trump-epa-budget-cuts-public-health/

  5. Greshko, Michael. “What You Need to Know About Trump’s Proposed Climate Cuts.” National Geographic. Published March 10, 2017. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/trump-cuts-epa-noaa-environmental-science-climate-change-impacts/

  6. “EPA chief doubts carbon dioxide's role in global warming.” BBC News. Published March 9, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-39221092

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