The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pressing Pennsylvania to come up with new funding to ramp up its Bay pollution reduction efforts, which are far off track.
Funding for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection is in woeful shape. Its total budget is down 5 percent since 2003 (not adjusted for inflation), and its staff has declined by 25 percent.
But if President Trump’s proposed budget becomes reality, things could get much worse. The proposed 31 percent cut to the EPA would result in significant reductions to state environmental agencies, which get a large portion of their funding from the EPA.
In fact, the DEP actually gets more of its operating funds from the EPA (28 percent) than it does from the state’s general fund (22 percent). Most of the rest comes from permits, fees and other sources.
Pennsylvania is hardly alone. A recent report from the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), a nonprofit made up of state environmental agencies, found that on average, they get 27 percent of their revenue from the EPA.
Elsewhere in the Bay watershed, EPA funds also account for significant chunks of state environmental agency budgets: 29 percent in Delaware, 20 percent in Maryland, 33 percent in New York, 22 percent in Virginia and 37 percent in West Virginia.
Much, but not all, of that money comes from “categorical grants” to states, which help them run basic environmental programs, such as air and water pollution control. States typically take the lead in enforcing those regulations, with the EPA serving as backup. Those grants would be cut 45 percent in the proposed budget.
“States need these federal funds to carry out their critical functions of advancing human health and protecting the environment, and to issue permits that keep local economies moving,” said Alexandra Dunn, ECOS executive director.
Bizarrely, the administration’s rationale for cutting the EPA’s budget is that it would just “support States and Tribes in their important role protecting air, land and water in the 21st Century.”
The problem is, that’s exactly the way it has worked: The states take the lead, and the EPA helps to fund them. The budget cuts, if adopted by Congress, would greatly hamper, not help, those efforts. Indeed, Dunn called the administration’s budget rationale “wholly inconsistent” with the state funding cuts.
In this issue, we report on the systemic budget problems that have plagued Pennsylvania’s environmental programs and contributed to its Bay shortfalls. If the Trump budget were enacted, Pennsylvania’s woes would worsen, and they’ll likely spread to other states.