Proposed cuts to clean water programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Trump administration would dramatically halt progress on addressing many of the greatest problems facing the Delaware River Basin. These threats include dioxin and other industrial pollution, as well as stalled restoration efforts, according to a new report released today by Environment America.
With a deadline for Congress to approve a federal budget rapidly approaching, Environment America was joined by Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin, State Representative John Kowalko, and the Delaware Nature Society’s Campaign Manager Chris Klarich in calling for full funding of the EPA in order to protect the Delaware River watershed and all of Delaware’s waterways.
“The Delaware River watershed - and the streams, rivers, and lands it contains - is critical to the health and welfare of our families, our communities, and our wildlife. It’s also a drinking water source for more than 15 million people,” said Megan DeSmedt, Clean Water Campaign Director with Environment America. “We’ve made real progress to clean up and restore the Delaware River and Bay with the support and guidance of the U.S. EPA, but this budget proposal would put all of that in jeopardy. ”
“The impacts of cuts to the EPA will not only reduce funding to the state of Delaware that protects our drinking water, habitat, and recreation, but also impacts an important economic engine,” said Secretary Garvin. “The federal government is a critical partner, and the signal President Trump’s budget sends is that our current and future environment and public health is no longer important to the federal government.”
The report issued today by Environment America Research & Policy Center, entitled Rough Waters Ahead, examines the impacts of the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to EPA water programs for the Delaware River watershed. More specifically, the report found that Delaware would lose:
$391,800 for water pollution control grants;
$164,400 in drinking water protection and enforcement grants; and
$1.1 million to address urban and agricultural runoff pollution
In addition to these cuts, the report highlighted specific examples of successes of the EPA, and the types of programs likely to less able to deliver real ecological benefits for the Delaware River watershed in terms of pollution prevention, law enforcement, and stream restoration. For example:
The Christina Basin Clean Water Partnership received a $1 million grant from the EPA in 2003 to boost restoration work in the Christina Basin after decades of agricultural and residential runoff threatened the drinking water source for 60% of Delaware’s population. The Partnership used the grant to fence and reforest streambanks, implement agricultural best management practices, and purchase rain barrels. Restoration of the Christina Basin is well under way, but there is still more work left to do with 72 miles of stream still too polluted for drinking, fishing, or recreation. Proposed cuts to the EPA’s budget will stall further cleanup of polluted streams like these.
When disease wiped out oyster populations in Delaware and New Jersey, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary teamed up with others to plant millions of bushels of shells onto reefs in the Bay, creating habitat for oysters. This restoration project stabilized the supply of oysters and increased harvests. The Trump administration’s proposed budget would eliminate funding for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
For decades, Dupont Titanium Technologies used millions of pounds of chlorine to manufacture titanium dioxide, generating toxic wastes including dioxin-one of the most toxic substances known to science. Some of that dioxin contaminated a waste pile Dupont created at the site, and during a 2011 site inspection, the EPA discovered that the plant had failed to meet Clean Water Act reporting requirements. That resulted in DuPont agreeing to pay a $500,000 penalty and seal the waste pile. If the EPA has less funding to monitor pollution levels and enforce limits, these sorts of violations would be more likely to go unnoticed in the future. Even worse, unscrupulous actors may decide to violate their permits, as the chance of getting caught and held accountable decreases.
Since the 1980s, officials in the Delaware River Basin have warned residents to limit their consumption of fish caught in many sections of the basin, due to high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in fish. PCBs cause cancer, and although they were banned in the 1970s, equipment containing PCBs is still in use. In 2004, the EPA and state agencies collaborated to set limits on PCB pollution. By 2013, the 10 largest polluters had reduced PCB pollution by 71% and the fish consumption advisory has been relaxed in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in Delaware. The EPA’s regional offices continue to work with states to keep making progress towards a healthier river, but proposed cuts to state grants put further progress in jeopardy.
"Contaminated water doesn't just affect fish and wildlife living in our local waters - it impacts our everyday lives through the food we eat, the streams and water bodies near our homes, and our economy," said Chris Klarich, Campaign Manager at the Delaware Nature Society.
Today’s report comes as Congress has roughly one month to approve the federal budget to avoid a government shutdown. While appropriations bills in the U.S. House of Representatives have rejected some of the most extreme EPA budget cuts, the process begins anew in the Senate, which returns next week.
“Kudos to Senators Carper and Coons for consistently advocating for the resources needed to restore the Delaware River and Bay, and all our waterways” stated DeSmedt. “We need their leadership now more than ever to stand up and ensure that we protect Delaware’s waterways by defending the budget at the U.S. EPA.”
The Full Report is available here: http://environmentamerica.org/reports/ame/rough-waters-ahead