Although President Trump's budget is still taking shape, it appears that it would significantly reduce regulations, impact air and water quality and degrade the health of humans, the natural environment and Southern Oregon's tourism industry, according to local environmental groups.
Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist of the Geos Institute in Ashland, said during a working trip to Washington, D.C., that there are many potential negative impacts, ranging from air and water pollution to an increase in disease-bearing insects moving north and west from the tropics.
“Cutting science and climate-change funding via the Trump budget proposal means increased human suffering, especially to vulnerable populations — the young, elderly and poor,” said DellaSala, whose daughter has had Lyme disease for five years, caught from a tick in their Talent backyard.
“In D.C., anything to do with science, especially climate change, is in the cross-hairs,” DellaSala said. “If there’s no viable EPA, there’s going to be more air and water pollution and less regulation, but here in Washington, they all say the budget is DOA (dead on arrival)."
Oregon's Democratic senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden say they will work to deliver that death blow to the budget.
That are part of a group of 37 senators who have signaled their opposition to Trump’s proposal for a more than 30-percent cut to the EPA budget.
Expressing “extreme concern” over the cuts, the senators wrote to appropriations leaders, “During the President’s February 28, 2017 address to Congress, he pledged to ‘promote clean air and water.’ Such a pledge is meaningless when the President follows it by proposing a 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget and a 20 percent reduction in its staff. If enacted, this funding cut would effectively eliminate the EPA’s ability to execute its core mission to protect public health and ensure citizens have clean air, clean water, and are protected from hazardous waste and contaminants.”
Outdoor enthusiasts in Southern Oregon could see the impacts in such areas as trail maintenance, which is already operating with skeleton crews.
“Recreational tourism will bear the brunt of cutbacks," DellaSala said. "We’re a recreation-based economy, and budget cuts will put more pressure on our resources. Agencies won’t be able to keep up with demands for clean air and water.”
KS Wild in Ashland has studied EPA cuts and believes they would affect water quality, wildlife, fish and management of public lands here, interfering with active restoration efforts, said Executive Director Joseph Vaile.
“The budget is still pretty vague," Vaile said. "We have no spreadsheets on it yet, but the platitudes are bad enough. It will affect the BLM and Forest Service’s ability to get things done, including stream work.”
He called a hiring freeze for forest staffs “very concerning."
"Less staff than in the past makes it impossible to move forward. Ashland’s Forest Resiliency project will suffer without staff. The work force is being reduced by attrition, so younger workers are not able to learn from retirees and keep a knowledge base to manage complex natural systems and do habitat improvement.”
EPA cuts would have a huge effect on Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality, which has used federal funds to administer the Clean Water Act for the last 45 years. Oregon DEQ Director Richard Whitman said the budget will be firmed up in mid-May and, under a 45 percent cut, as indicated by the White House, 32 employees would lose their jobs — with 25 of those in air and water quality.
Oregon has “a bad backlog” of expired water-quality permits, with only 26 percent current, and that will worsen, said Stacey Detwiler, conservation director for Rogue Riverkeeper, a program of KS Wild.
Inspections require having teams out in the field — and water quality is an area that would take the worst hits in the budget. Ashland’s wastewater permit expired in 2008, she noted, but treatment plants have to keep operating. Such permits set the maximum amount of waste that can be put into waterways.
The EPA's 31 percent cut would amount to $482 million. That would eliminate a lot of grants for environmental programs, said Detwiler.
Budet cuts to BLM and Forest Service management would mean less protection from wildfire, said Alan Journet of Southern Oregon Climate Action Now.
“A huge percent of their budgets are for fire control, not management. Forests are more and more in need of protective management. Gutting Interior (Department) would have those effects. We don’t know what’s going to happen yet.
“We do know the current administration is hellbent on promoting science ignorance of climate change and are targeting NOAA and NASA," Journet said. "They’re cutting research on most of the problems we’re facing, and without information the voices of denial will continue and be more strident. ... It’s militant ignorance.”
Regardless of federal cuts, the work of the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy will carry on, but be made harder with reduced — or no — grants, which it sometimes receives, said board President Pat Acklin of Ashland.
“It’s hard to say what will happen, but if you cut environmental money for local folks, it will have a domino effect,” she said. "When the budget gets to Congress, I don’t think a lot of it will look good. Trump will offer a bare-bones budget and he won’t like the looks of it when Congress is done with it. We still have a lot of sausage to make.”
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.