Kicking off what is likely to be a fierce fight, environmentalists and two prominent Democrats in Congress yesterday vowed to oppose deep cuts in programs to protect the nation’s land, air, and water.
Standing outside an office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Edison and joined by legislators and local officials, Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone called President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that would cut the spending on environmental programs by nearly one-third a devastating assault on combatting climate change, Superfund cleanups, and efforts to reduce harmful air pollution.
The rally is the launch of a broad campaign to mobilize opposition to the cuts, which critics argue undermine decades of gains in cleaning up polluted waterways, smog-fouled air, and toxic waste sites.
Other prominent leaders also vowed to join the fray. Former Govs. Brendan Byrne, Tom Kean, Jim Florio, and Christie Whitman are calling on the state’s congressional delegation to prevent decades of environmental protection from being undermined. They plan to discuss the push to organize opposition to the cuts at their own press conference today.
“We are not going to allow it to happen without a fight,’’ said Booker, a Democrat who argued that the proposed budget cuts at the EPA would gut the agency’s core functions, including efforts to clean up Superfund toxic waste sites. Fifty percent of people in New Jersey live within three miles of a Superfund site, he noted.
The Superfund program faces a 30 percent cut, which would slow or halt cleanups at 114 such sites in New Jersey, the most of any state in the nation.
Pallone, a Democrat from Monmouth County, criticized Trump’s executive actions to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. The new administration’s efforts to revive the coal sector by scrapping a plan to limit emissions from dirty power plants will fail to achieve its goal, Pallone said.
“President Trump is trying to create a 19th-century economy that does not exist anymore,’’ said Pallone, speaking above the nearby drilling of workers installing a small solar farm next to the EPA’s offices.
Overall, if Trump gets his way, the agency’s budget will be trimmed 31 percent, and its workforce by about 20 percent.
“His cuts will mean that there will not be enough personnel to make sure our water is safe to drink, our land is clean, our air is breathable, and our Superfund sites are cleaned up,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The groups opposing the cuts in environmental programs also will focus efforts on four Republican congressmen from New Jersey — Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Chris Smith, and Frank LoBiondo, according to Tittel.
“We have to target them just like they were on healthcare,’’ Tittel said, referring to the efforts to swing votes of the Republican moderates in Congress. “You have to stand up to these cuts; otherwise there will be consequences.’’