Report: EPA budget cuts could ‘do irreparable harm’ to Delaware River Watershed

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel and other environmental advocates discussed all potential problems of a 30 percent federal budget cut proposed by the Trump administration to the Environmental Protection Agency. Those include dire consequences such as contaminated drinking water, neglected Superfund sites, a re-polluted Delaware river and more.

“This budget is not just a cut. It’s a taking a meat cleaver to the EPA,” said Tittel.

“The Trump budget is historically bad,” said Doug O’Malley from Environment New Jersey. “It’s a cut of more than 30 percent. It would go back to beyond the levels of initial funding of the 1970s.”

O’Malley cited his group’s new impact study called, ‘Rough Waters Ahead,’ which predicts specific negative results from the proposed cuts. For example: monitoring and enforcing 1,000 pollution permits along the lower Delaware Watershed would be slashed by 25 percent. And that’s dangerous for the water supply, especially for people whose water comes from the Pine Barrens Aquifer.

“A source that historically has been very clean for centuries, could potentially be exposed to contamination, due to lack of oversight. Many people would not even know that their source of water was contaminated until they start becoming ill. And that poses a real threat not only to residents in South Jersey, but also to people who rely on the Delaware River for water,” said Jaclyn Rhoads of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

That’s because some three million New Jersey residents, either directly or via reservoirs, ultimately get their drinking water from the Delaware River. The cuts could limit EPA clean-up at New Jersey’s toxic Superfund sites and they could also imperil more than $4 million in water protection and pollution control grants, programs performed by the DEP but paid for by the EPA.

“Cuts of the nature discussed in this research would affect their ability to test for agriculture waste, human waste in the water,” said Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio. “This isn’t fake news. They put these details so you can see the real results of what a 30 percent cut would look like.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has previously defended his department’s budget request and regulation rollbacks.

“I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trim budget and with proper leadership and management,” Pruitt said back in June. “We will work with Congress, Mr. Chairman, to help focus on national priorities with respect to the resources you provide, and we will continue to focus on our core missions.”

But, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson vowed to fight the cuts and said even some Republicans fear Pruitt’s budget could ravage the agency and savage the environment.

“So even they’re aware of the fact that, at some point, these cuts could be just disastrous and disastrous to our communities as well as our communities,” said Coleman. “Clearly there’s a need for activists across this state and across this country to be standing up and saying, ‘No. We’re not going to tolerate this.’”

Environmental advocates plan to hold a series of five town halls over the next three days to raise public awareness. The federal budget deadline is September 30.

Environment NJ and other advocates will convene at town halls on Aug. 29 in Parsippany and Mays Landing, Aug. 30 in Somerville, Aug. 31 in Shrewsbury and Aug. 31 in Willingboro. For more info visit Environment New Jersey.