Just When We Need Them Most, State Environmental Agencies Cut Budgets

Pump jacks pull oil from Texas’ Permian Basin.       Photo: Jerod Foster for The Texas Tribune

The Trump Administration may be expecting more of state environmental agencies — indeed, they have delegated more authority to certain states in order to ensure greater “flexibility” for industry — but a majority of states have cut the budget of their environmental agencies according to a new report entitled “The Thin Green Line” by the Environmental Integrity Project Of the 48 states they looked at (all the lower 48 but not Alaska or Hawaii), since 2008, 31 had reduced their funding and 40 had reduced staff.

Why This Matters:  This compounds the neglect of the federal government, which has cut EPA’s budget for pollution control and science over the same time period.  It is no wonder the American public is dissatisfied with the government’s performance when it comes to clean air, land, and water, but now it is clear this is happening more locally as well as at the federal level.  State funding often is in the form of assistance to local governments.  It is no wonder our environment is seeing so much stress and there are so many people — particularly the young and elderly — suffering or even dying prematurely as a result of this environmental degradation according to a study by Harvard last year.  Laws are only as good as their implementation.

Texas As An Example

Houston Public Media looked at the reported cuts to the state environmental protection agency and found that Texas lawmakers cut funding to the agency’s funding by 35% even as the state budget grew by 41%.  This reduction also corresponded with a historic industrial buildout due to the fracking revolution, which led to vast corporate profits as a result, while the cost of compliance decreased even though the need for permitting, monitoring and enforcement greatly expanded.  Texas (under the leadership of Republican Governors Rick Perry and Greg Abbott) had the second greatest reduction in environmental spending at the state level, and Wisconsin  (under former Governor Republican Scott Walker) had the largest decrease at 36% over the decade but under Democratic leadership that state will likely turn this around. California had the largest increase in spending, which cuts against the argument by President Trump that the state is not doing enough to keep its environment clean.

The Cuts By The Numbers

The numbers are large in the aggregate according to the Report.

  • 25 states imposed cuts of at least 10 percent
  • 21 states cutting their environmental workforce by at least 10 percent
  • Overall, states eliminated 4,400 positions at agencies responsible for protecting the environment
  • The White House cut the U.S. EPA’s funding for pollution control and science by 16 percent (adjusted for inflation)
  • They also reduced the EPS workforce 16 percent by eliminating 2,699 positions

The bottom line is that “[n]either EPA nor states have the funding they need to meet their responsibilities under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other laws that protect the public’s health and our environment from dangerous pollution,” according to Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the EIP.

To Go Deeper:  If you want to find out how your state is doing, click here for the report’s interactive map.  To download the full report, click here.

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