President Donald Trump’s plans to shrink and redirect the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could have a severe impact on Maine where, according to one environmental advocacy official, state environmental programs already have been “cut down to the bone.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a proposal from the White House would cut EPA staffing levels by one-fifth over the course of a year and either curtail or eliminate “dozens” of programs, including the Brownfields remediation program, which funds cleanups at former industrial sites that have been contaminated by pollution.
“This is removing bones at this point,” Pete Didisheim, senior director of advocacy for Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Thursday of Trump’s plans to reduce spending and change policy at the EPA.
Didisheim said the Trump administration is expected to release a more detailed plan this week about proposed budget cuts and policy changes but that the outlook for environmental programs nationally and in Maine is not good.
“This [possible 20 percent] scale of budget cuts is all bad news,” Didisheim said. “None of what we’re hearing is good for Maine.”
David Madore, spokesman for Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said Friday that he did not have immediate access to detailed information about which ongoing DEP programs are being funded by EPA grants, nor did he have a breakdown of the individual amounts of money that the department has received from the federal agency. He said the department had budgeted expenditures of $52.7 million for the 2016 fiscal year, of which $11.3 million — or 21.5 percent — was being funded by the federal government.
Madore declined to comment on what EPA budget cuts might mean for the department, saying the department has not had any formal communications with the agency about the implications of Trump’s executive order.
Laura Dorle, state director for Environment Maine, said Thursday that Trump’s order this week to reverse water protections established under his predecessor opens the door for allowing pollution into non-navigable waters, such as wetlands and streams. In response, Environment Maine has launched a fundraising campaign on its website to combat the order, which it says will “leave Americans with dirtier drinking water.”
Trump’s promises to relax restrictions on coal-fired power plant emissions also could have negative impacts on Maine, Dorle said. Because of prevailing wind patterns that blow east from the Midwest, Maine has been referred to as “the tailpipe of the nation,” she said, meaning people in Maine often end up breathing pollution emitted by power plants in other states.
“It’s the reason Maine and New England has a high rate of asthma,” Dorle said.
According to Didisheim, elimination of the Brownfields program would be “deeply troubling.” The program the been crucial to cleaning up closed paper mills such as Eastern Fine Paper in Brewer, which is now an infrastructure manufacturing facility for Cianbro, and the former Callahan Mine in Brooksville, he said, adding that EPA has committed to funding 90 percent of the ongoing $50 million mine remediation project.
EPA funding also has been vital to improving wastewater treatment facilities and reducing sewage overflows into Maine’s fresh and coastal waters, the quality of which affects property values and municipal budgets, Didisheim said.
“We’ve got a $1 billion backlog of upgrading our wastewater treatment facilities” in Maine, he said.
Coal plant emissions also have been blamed for elevated levels of mercury and lead in freshwater and marine fish populations in Maine and in birds that eat them, such as loons and bald eagles. But, according to the Washington Post, reductions in the past decade or so of coal plant emissions have been linked to lower mercury levels in tuna caught in the Gulf of Maine from 2004 to 2012.