How Trump’s Budget Drains Drinking Water Protections

Trump's recently proposed budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets lofty goals to “ensure that all Americans are protected from exposure to hazardous environmental risks where they live, learn, work, and enjoy their lives.”

But just saying it doesn’t make it so.

Compare the facts around drinking water to the response from the Administration.

Fact: Almost 77 million Americans are served by a drinking water system that has violated at least one drinking water rule. More than 18 million Americans are served by a drinking water system with at least one violation of the Lead and Copper Rule. And despite the documented, severe lead problems in Flint, Michigan, the city had no reported violations of the Lead and Copper Rule, which underscore the rule's weaknesses. EPA needs to revise and strengthen the Lead and Copper Rule and other drinking water rules. EPA also needs new rules for unregulated contaminants.

Trump response: Cut $16 million from the drinking water program.

Fact: More than 70 percent of drinking water violations occur in systems that serve fewer than 500 people. These systems are mainly found in rural and sparsely populated areas. Technical and financial assistance would help these systems provide clean water to their communities.

Trump response: Eliminate the U.S. Department of Agriculture's $511 million Rural Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant Program. Trump has said that rural Americans can turn to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) instead for funding to improve their drinking water systems. But rather than increase the SRF by $511 million to absorb this additional need, he only increases it by a paltry $1.6 million.

Fact: In 2015, there were more than 80,000 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in more than 18,000 communities across the country. The state or EPA took formal enforcement against only 13 percent of these violations.

Trump response: Cut EPA civil and criminal enforcement budget by more than $36 million.  

Fact: There are thousands of contaminants found in drinking water that are not regulated by the EPA. For example, perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel and impairs the develop of fetuses when their mothers are exposed it. Perchlorate is found in up to 16 million people’s drinking water. PFOA and PFOS (man-made compounds commonly used for waterproofing, non-stick, and stain-resistant products) is found in 6 million people's tap water at unsafe levels. Last year, 19 states had to issue health advisories because of harmful algal toxins found in sources of drinking water. Chromium 6 is found in 7 million people's tap water nationally at levels above California's safety standard (there is no federal standard).

Trump response: Cut the research program that seeks solutions to water contaminated by complex chemical and microbes by $33.6 million. Cut the Public Water System Supervision program that identifies, prevents, and protects drinking water from known and emerging contaminants that potentially endanger public health by $30.5 million.

Fact: The drinking water for most Americans comes from surface water (rivers, lakes, and streams). The pollution comes from “point sources” like industrial and sewage treatment plants. It can also come from “non-point sources” from rainfall and snowmelt picking up pollution from, for example, livestock, leaking septic tanks, and residential areas. The pollution ends up in surface water that are sources of drinking water. Contaminated surface water that is a source of drinking water forces utilities to spend more money to clean up the water. This extra cost often ends up being charged to the customers, rather than being paid for by the polluters.

Trump response: Cut $24.9 million from surface water protection. Cut $81.6 million from point-source pollution program. Eliminate the $164.6 million non-point source pollution program.

Fact: 53 million Americans live within 3 miles of a Superfund toxic waste site and people living in counties with these sites have a 6% higher risk of getting cancer; often these sites can contaminate drinking water with hazardous chemicals.

Trump response: Slash EPA’s Superfund toxic waste cleanup budget by one-third, $330 million dollars, so that cleanups will slow down and be less protective of the public—if they happen at all.

In addition to these broad cuts, the Trump budget eliminates the geographic programs that affect important bodies of water around the country: the Chesapeake Bay program, the Great Lakes Restoration Program, the Puget Sound program, and many more. Together, these eliminated programs represent another $426.9 million cut from the budget.

The budget cuts to EPA programs that affect drinking is staggering and will do great harm to our health. EPA needs more resources to enforce and strengthen our existing drinking water rules and to protect our drinking water from unregulated contaminants. Huge cuts to drinking water-related programs and grants total more than $600 million. In addition, $511 million would be cut from the water and wastewater loan and grant programs for rural communities at USDA.

There has been limited federal enforcement on drinking water issues for some time, but a close look at the proposed budget leaves many observers wondering if there is any cash for any enforcement at all in the Agency next year. The EPA’s enforcement budget would be cut by $ 36.5 million and leaves essentially nothing for EPA staff to do their work to hold polluters accountable. This is on top of a new policy that eliminates federal enforcement of environmental protections, including drinking water, in states that share enforcement authority with the EPA.

Even a cursory inspection of the Agency’s budget makes it clear that Trump and Pruitt have no intention of improving the environment and public health.

Who suffers in the end? Everyone who wants clean drinking water.

About the Authors

Mae Wu

Senior Attorney, Health program

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