Trump’s Budget Means Big Trouble for NJ Environment, Experts Warn
Deep cuts to EPA, other agencies could spare drinking-water and wastewater infrastructure, but streams, rivers, shoreline in crosshairs
Fewer dollars to clean up hazardous-waste sites. No money to test water quality at coastal beaches. Zero funding to restore threatened watersheds, such as the Delaware River Basin.
These are some of the consequences that could be in store for New Jersey’s environment if the broad outlines of President Donald Trump’s federal budget are adopted, according to conservationists.
In making public his proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2018, the new administration recommended the deepest cuts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where funding would be slashed by 31 percent to $5.7 billion, eliminating an estimated 3,200 jobs.
Funding for a wide range of climate-change research and initiatives also would be curtailed if the recommendations are adopted, involving programs at the EPA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and state department.
“Trump’s budget proposal to eviscerate the EPA is a direct assault on our future,’’ said Scott Sclesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It would return us to smog-choked cities, oil-soaked rivers, and toxic drinking water, threatening our health from every quarter.’’
The spending plan faces congressional review, and even a Republican-controlled body may balk at some of the deep spending cuts, which call for the elimination of 38 programs.
For example, the budget proposes to eliminate funding to clean up the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and other watersheds. “These restoration efforts offer a huge economic return on investment and should not face cuts, let alone being zeroed out,’’ said Ginger North, director of conservation at the Delaware Nature Society.
“We are disappointed to see the lack of support for regional watershed programs, similar to the Delaware River Basin Restoration program, in the proposed budget,’’ said Madeline Urbish, director of the Coalition for the Delaware River at New Jersey Audubon. “If funded, this programs stands to be a critical piece in protecting one of our nation’s most important river systems, the Delaware River Basin, which provides clean drinking water to over 15 million people.
One critical water area left relatively untouched by the spending plan, however, is funding for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. In both areas, New Jersey has huge unmet needs that must be addressed, with the state projected having to spend at least $8 billion to modernize its drinking-water systems and more than $20 billion its wastewater infrastructure.
In other areas, the state does not appear to fare as well. The proposed budget would impose significant cuts on the program to clean up federal Superfund toxic-waste sites. With 114 sites, New Jersey leads the nation in the number of hazardous areas requiring cleanup. The program’s annual spending is cut by $330 million.
Debbie Mans, the NY/NJ Baykeeper, noted that the budget said it will prioritize cleanup with existing settlement funds, a move that may mean many sites will languish. “This places public health and the environment at risk, especially in a densely populated state, with multiple pollution sources, like New Jersey,’’ Mans said.
The American Littoral Society called the budget proposal a disaster for the coast. The cuts will jeopardize such things as water-quality testing on beaches and pollution cleanups, potentially affecting thousands of jobs tied to coastal tourism.