By Erin Delmore
“This should alarm all New Jerseyans,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
President Trump’s proposed budget is predictably big on boosting Defense and Homeland Security spending and small on almost every thing else, but no cabinet department took a greater hit than the Environmental Protection Agency. The blueprint making its way through Capitol Hill includes cutting the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, resulting in the layoffs of more than 3,000 individuals charged with enforcing the agency’s laws. And lawmakers say that makes New Jersey one of the biggest losers.
“It would essentially decimate the ability of New Jersey regulators to protect clean water, clean air and healthy communities,” said Food and Water Watch Senior Organizer Matthew Smith.
A legacy of industrialization left New Jersey with more Superfund sites than any other state. One along the lower Passaic River in Newark was just green lit for a multi-million dollar cleanup. Now activists say it’s in jeopardy. And it’s not the only one.
“New Jersey has 116 Superfund sites and it is the one state in the nation that has the most. These cuts will devastate that program,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
“These are orphaned sites where corporations didn’t clean up their mess, where now we know from longitudinal studies, that 20 percent higher rates of autism, 20 percent higher rates of birth defects around them. We’ve got the most of them here in New Jersey and now the EPA is suddenly saying we’re going to cut Superfund cleanup resources and that means these sites are going to stick around a lot longer in our state,” Booker said.
The EPA sends some of its funding to the states. That’s how New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection draws around a quarter of its operating revenue.
“It’s devastating not just for the environment, it’s devastating for the health of every working man and woman in New Jersey,” Wisniewski said.
Trump’s budget blueprint calls for nearly halving grant funding to less than $600 million. And the Superfund program gets cut by around a third — shaving $330 million from last year’s budget.
Here’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt earlier this month: “I want you to know that with the White House and also with Congress, I am communicating a message that the Brownfield program, the Superfund program, water infrastructure, WIFIA grants, state revolving funds are essential to protect and that’s very important that we do that.”
Advocacy groups are banding together for a national day of action tomorrow. New Jersey-based Food and Water Watch is holding a rally in Newark in defense of the EPA.