On Friday, March 3, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) held a press conference at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington, a non-profit organization located on the Burlington waterfront and committed to educating people “about the Ecology, Culture, History and Opportunities for Stewardship of the Lake Champlain Basin,” according to their official website.
In his press conference, Leahy issued a warning surrounding President Trump’s recent budget proposal.
“I’m worried that the new president’s budget priorities are unbalanced and dangerously misguided,” Leahy stated. “He’s going to take a machete to essential investments in our communities … and it’s going to hit especially hard in rural states and communities.”
Leahy continued by discussing Trump’s controversial proposal to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, calling the wall “ill-conceived and ineffective.” He emphasized his belief that between the budget proposal and the “waste of $21 billion [on the wall],” money will be taken from “medical research … money [used] to support small farms and small businesses … and definitely [taken] from what we do to protect our environment.”
The New York Times reports that Trump has proposed a “$54 billion increase in the Pentagon budget.”
VT Digger reports that in order to fund this potential budget, “federal agencies across government would see a 13 percent cut to offset the military spending, and the Environmental Protection Agency would suffer some of the biggest reductions.”
The National Association of Clean Air Agencies claimed in a document that the White House is recommending “a 30 percent reduction in EPA grants to states, while agency staff would be cut by 20 percent.”
There is also speculation that the EPA budget will be slashed by $2 billion dollars, a heavy hit for an agency whose enacted budget for the 2016 fiscal year stood at over $8 billion. Reuters has also recently reported that 20 percent of positions are at risk of being eliminated. Vermont is at great risk to be hit hard by these policies, especially with Trump’s recommendation to phase out numerous federal programs.
Grants for cleanup sites, federal aid through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and EPA funding to clean Lake Champlain are all in jeopardy. Seven Days also reports that “United States Department of Agriculture grants that funded $150 million in rural projects in Vermont last year” are in danger.
In reference to the Lake Champlain clean-up in particular, Seven Days reports that “losing EPA money would … decimate the Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP), which gets the majority of its funding from the agency.”
The program aims to restore and protect Lake Champlain and its surrounding watershed for future generations, working in partnership with government agencies to ensure that Lake Champlain’s water quality, wildlife and recreation remain in good condition. One of the top priorities of the plan involves the reduction of toxic contamination and phosphorus inputs to protect the lake, public health and the ecosystem.
David Grass, the environmental health surveillance chief at Vermont’s Department of Health, told Seven Days that the EPA grants his department $110,000 each year in order to screen Vermonters for the radioactive gas radon; radon causes about 50 deaths from lung cancer each year.
Grass stated, “EPA funding is critical in saving lives in Vermont and preventing lung cancer.”
VT Digger states that if the EPA does take budget cuts of such severity, researchers responsible for developing quality standards for Lake Champlain and setting a threshold for phosphorous pollution may lose their jobs.
Julie Moore, the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, spoke with VT Digger following Trump’s inauguration, revealing that “a 30 percent reduction in federal funding could gut the state’s environmental regulatory structure and significantly reduce monies distributed to local communities for clean water projects.”
Democrats in both houses are expected to object strongly to proposed domestic cuts like these. Sen. Leahy, who pledged during the press conference that he will fight the cuts, will be among those battling to protect the environment here in Vt. and across the nation.