EPA Cuts Could Mean Millions Less For Montana

by MTPR, Corin Cates-Carney

Environmental groups say President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget could mean less grant money for pollution control, drinking water protection and Superfund clean up in Montana.

When the Trump administration released its 2018 budget, about 5 months ago, it called for several billions of dollars in reduced government spending for EPA programs.

David Brooks is the Executive Director of Montana Trout Unlimited. It, and other environmental groups released a report called “Rough Waters Ahead” Tuesday.

Brooks said “there are 17 Superfund sites in Montana that are still not closed or finished, in terms of being cleaned up and signed off by the EPA. With 30 percent proposed cuts to the EPA many, or all of those, could slow down or be pause indefinitely with these kind of budget cuts.”

Brooks was joined by other Trout Unlimited representatives on a call-in press conference about the report issued in partnership with Environment Montana.

The authors estimate Montana could lose more than 3 million dollars in EPA grants under Trump’s proposed budget. They say roughly a third of that money would be reductions in Superfund site cleanup grants.

Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines says President Trump is right to look at ways to reduce government spending, but he says it’s unlikely that congress will significantly reduce EPA’s appropriation.

“I would anticipate the overall spending for the EPA will be approximately even to what it was last year,” said Daines. “It will be holding the line on spending, most likely not increasing it. But the significant reductions that we saw proposed in the White House, of some important core mission type parts of the EPA, like protecting human health and the environment, we’ll make sure we have the funding to make sure the core mission is sustained. As well as ensuring we have our Superfund sites, and the funding for that.”

In late June, Daines sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. He emphasized the importance of funding Superfund cleanup, and urged the EPA to increase the pace of cleanup and to prioritize Superfund over other EPA programs.

Daines also asked Pruitt to decrease administrative costs in the agency, and to use Superfund National Priorities List as an option of last resort, and when possible delegate remediation and oversight to state control.

Both Senator Daines and his Democratic counterpart Senator Jon Tester sit on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment.

Tester says he does not see congress significantly decreasing the amount of money it appropriates to the EPA, but that doesn’t mean President Trump, or Administrator Pruitt, will choose to spend it.

“The truth is that the administration doesn’t have to spend any of this money if they don’t want to,” said Tester.

Congress will likely vote on how much money it hands to the EPA by the end of the year.

David Brooks with Montana Trout Unlimited says even if federal lawmakers keep funding the EPA at past levels, that doesn’t protect the programs he’s concerned about.

“The same amount appropriated to the EPA could be disbursed differently, such that some of the programs we’re worried about could lead to clean water protection, and restoration in Montana, could still be cut if money is shifted elsewhere,” said Brooks.

In the coming months, congress will set a ceiling for the EPA’s spending for the next year, but it’s yet to be seen how the Trump administration will use that funding for specific EPA programs.