A former Mississippi mayor and top federal environmental official, along with other environmentalists, are sounding the alarm about proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Specifically, state-run environmental projects from wastewater treatment to pollution control could wither should Congress approve a spending bill that would slash the EPA’s budget by $528 million, or 6.6 percent, next fiscal year.
Heather McTeer-Toney, a former Greenville mayor and former EPA Regional Administrator, said federal dollars cover a significant portion of MDEQ’s budget.
“In past years, there have been significant concerns due to state legislative cuts and whether or not any EPA cuts would impact that particular office,” McTeer-Toney said. “For example, the air division for MDEQ is almost completely funded by EPA dollars. Any cuts or changes to that particular segment of the budget would almost dismantle that part of the budget for the state.”
That division, according to MDEQ’s website, oversees controlling, preventing and abating air pollution under the Mississippi Air and Water Pollution Control Act as well as the federal Clean Air Act and EPA rules.
McTeer-Toney, along with former U.S. Office of Management and Budget officials hosted a teleconference Monday with officials from EDF Action, a partner of the Environmental Defense Action Fund that includes a group of lobbyists, political strategists and communications professionals supporting environmental protections.
They advocate keeping the EPA’s budget the same as in fiscal year 2017 to sustain critical state environmental monitoring and safety programs, and called on voters to reach out to their representatives about their EPA funding concerns.
While the proposed cut would be smaller than the $2.6 billion cut President Trump had sought, Elgie Holstein, senior director of EDF Action and a former Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy and Science at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, said the smaller cut will still be costly for communities across the country.
“What we’re seeing is an attempt by this administration, led by administrator Scott Pruitt, to hollow out EPA.”
“Overall, we’re looking at a 7 percent cut. We’re also looking at a hollowing out that continues through the agency’s considerable expertise, (or) the people who provide the technical assistance to states and local government.”
The bill also set aside nearly $58 million to help pay for buyouts to entice employees to leave voluntarily, according to Environment & Energy News.
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Robbie Wilbur said the department is aware of the discussion of potential EPA budget cuts, but “doesn’t have enough information to make any definitive statement on what impacts there might be for our agency.”
The department of environmental quality oversees and regulates resources such as surface and ground water quality; compliance with air emission regulations; and permitting of mines and the reclamation of surface-mined land, among other things.