Funding for air quality control in Las Vegas and Reno, preventing leaks from hundreds of underground storage tanks and cleaning pollution from nearly 23,000 abandoned mines are all on the chopping block under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.
Any major cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency may have an outsized effect on funding environmental protection efforts in Nevada, according to a 15-page report prepared by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and provided to The Nevada Independent ahead of its publication Friday.
The group, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to environmental activism, prepared similar reports this week for the states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. It estimated that Nevada drew on more than $83 million in grants from the agency over the last five years, which EDF analyst and former energy advisor to President Barack Obama Elgie Holstein said was a conservative measurement given other, less direct activity and spending the agency undertakes in Nevada and other states.
Trump’s proposed budget for the EPA would cut around 31 percent of the agency’s overall budget, or around $2 billion, and make major reductions in agency enforcement ($129 milion), environmental research ($234 million) and $330 million from accounts used for cleaning up heavily contaminated sites. Congress is generally required to pass a budget by Oct. 1 of every year, or otherwise must approve stopgap continuing resolutions to fund federal agencies and other spending.
Congress is highly unlikely to accept Trump’s budget proposal without making major changes of its own. Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who earlier called the proposed budget “anti-Nevada,” said that members of Congress would essentially start the budget process from scratch.
“We’re going to treat the Trump budget the same way we did under the Bush Administration and the same way we did under the Obama Administration — we’re going to ignore it,” he said on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Holstein said even a reduced amount of cuts to the agency’s budget would have immense effects on Nevada and other states given that the agency’s budget has stayed relatively flat since 2011.
“It will not be a victory if instead of the president’s 30 percent cuts, these grants and other programs are cut by 15 percent, because the EPA budget is already so tightly constrained,” he said. “They’ve been doing more and more with less.”
Holstein said that supporters of the proposed cuts had a “fundamental” misunderstanding of how the cuts would affect businesses and localities, and said the suggestion that the funding cuts would spur growth ignored the fact that businesses still needed to follow “bedrock” environmental laws requiring compliance on water and air pollution.
“It doesn’t work like that,” he said. “You cut EPA’s budget, what you’ve done is cut grant funds, scientific enforcement, legal compliance, assistance from EPA. What you’ve really done is thrown a monkey wrench into the ability of the business community to comply readily with these natural and environmental laws.”
The report highlights various EPA grants given to Nevada over the last five years and proposed cuts, including programs addressing runoff water pollution, highly-contaminated areas or “Superfund” sites, more than 200 polluted “Brownfield” sites near populated areas, air quality control and even $11.4 million in grants to the state’s Indian tribes for a variety of environmental protection purposes.
Nevada has received several million dollars in grant programs over the last five years that are facing possible elimination under the proposed budget, including a program aimed at reducing indoor sources of radon ($1.9 milion), a runoff nonpoint pollution fund ($7.8 million) and a source of funding for leaky underground storage tanks ($1.9 million).
The cuts could also affect Nevada’s sole “Superfund” site — the Carson River Mercury Superfund site that stretches through Lyon, Storey, Carson, Washoe and Churchill counties and covers an area contaminated with mercury from mining operations in the 1800s. The report states that the proposed budget would cut hazardous substance cleanup spending by 30 percent, an 18 percent cut in emergency response funds and a 37 percent reduction in enforcement efforts.
The state has also taken advantage of grants related to air pollution control — Clark County received $4.4 million in EPA funds over the last five years for air quality purposes, while Washoe County was awarded $3.6 million for similar purposes. Holstein said that the proposed budget would cut about one-third of the funding for programs that help monitor air quality, leaving Nevada jurisdictions in a financial bind given legal agreements to provide the monitoring services.
“This is not just a nice to have; it’s a must have according to legal agreements with EPA,” he said.