As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to drastically reduce the size and scope of the Environmental Protection Agency. A memo by the White House Office of Management and Budget indicates that’s still the plan. The memo outlines a proposed 25 percent cut to EPA’s $8-billion budget, including reductions in state grants for clean air and water programs.
David Hess, who was secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in the 1990s, says that’s a big deal: Nearly a third of the DEP’s budget comes from the EPA.
“It helps pay for air pollution reduction, regulating underground storage tanks — there are a whole lot of programs that EPA money pays for, including things like stream restoration,” Hess says.
Hess says the DEP already has fewer resources than it needs to do its job. The department has been operating with reduced staff, and its share of the state’s general fund has been cut by 40 percent over the last 14 years.
“The department has been in triage mode, really for the last decade,” Hess says.
It’s simple math, Hess says: There simply aren’t enough people working at DEP to keep up with thousands of permit applications or inspections. In fact, late last year, DEP received a letter from the EPA admonishing the agency for failing to conduct the minimum number of inspections of drinking water systems across the state. Hess says losing EPA funding won’t help.
“Any cut in those monies will bring real problems to the agency.”
Hess says it’s not just the environment that loses out if DEP doesn’t review permits in a timely manner. It holds up business and development, which costs Pennsylvania money. He says slashing regulations isn’t the answer either.
“I certainly agree with people that things can be simplified, but it’s got to be simplified and streamlined without getting rid of protection.”