Cuts target Oregon clean air, pollution programs
Federal programs that have been responsible for removing cancer-causing diesel soot from Oregon's air and keeping swimmers out of polluted water would be eliminated under sweeping cuts to environmental programs proposed by the Trump Administration.
The Environmental Protection Agency's clean diesel program targets diesel soot, a carcinogen estimated to prematurely kill 460 Oregonians annually. The EPA's beach water quality testing program funds Oregon health officials' effort to warn swimmers about high bacteria levels during the summer.
The Trump budget, the basic outlines of which were revealed Wednesday, would cut the EPA's 15,000-person staff by 3,000 people and reduce its $8 billion budget by $2 billion.
No state on the West Coast would escape the effects.
The plan is not yet final, and the EPA's new administrator, Scott Pruitt, has cautioned that he will make changes. But it offers the first glimpse into President Trump's vision for an agency he has attacked as a job-killer.
"What is almost unbelievable is the level of attack on almost every major environmental program under EPA's domain," said William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
Spending on restoration and monitoring projects in Puget Sound would drop from $28 million to $2 million, according to a copy of the plan that Becker has seen and detailed to The Oregonian/OregonLive. The budget cuts would affect the EPA's work with tribes. And it would cut programs targeting radon, lead, air and water quality and pollution problems disproportionately affecting minorities and the poor.
Richard Whitman, director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said he is concerned about cuts impacting the pace of the Portland Harbor superfund cleanup, which is reliant on EPA staffing.
The Department of Environmental Quality gets about 13 percent of its budget from the EPA. A major EPA budget cut wouldn't be "foundationally threatening," he said. But coupled with a nearly 8 percent reduction in state funding, "it's going to slow things down substantially â€“ and could prolong situations where we have significant public health concerns."
The EPA's clean diesel program would be completely eliminated, Becker said, leaving Oregon without its only reliable funding source for reducing diesel soot.
California has spent hundreds of millions in state money to reduce diesel pollution in the last decade. Washington has spent more than $50 million. Then there's Oregon, which has spent less than $1 million of its own money.
But since 2008, Oregon has gotten $4.9 million from the EPA's clean diesel program, paying for businesses and public agencies to retrofit or replace old trucks, construction equipment and a dredge. The city of Portland, for example, received $500,000 to pay to retrofit heavy duty equipment used in public works projects.
Oregon will soon get a one-time infusion of more than $70 million for clean diesel under a recent settlement with Volkswagen, following allegations that car company installed software to cheat on engine emissions testing.
But clean air advocates say the Volkswagen windfall is no substitute for the more reliable funding EPA has provided the state for diesel retrofits.
"It would be a tragedy, considering that the only meaningful diesel reductions we've gotten have been through that federal funding program," said Mary Peveto, president of Neighbors for Clean Air, a Portland advocacy group.
The EPA's clean diesel program has been targeted before. The Obama administration repeatedly proposed cuts, only to relent amid opposition from environmental groups and industries that support it.
It "is the rare program that has benefitted every state in the union, has bipartisan support in Congress fairly consistently, has a proven and measurable track record and is non-regulatory in nature," said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, an industry group.
An EPA spokesman, Doug Ericksen, didn't respond to a call.