Report: Michigan communities, water face twin assaults from environmental budget cuts
June 14, 2017
LCV, MEC urge lawmakers to consider combined impact of state, federal proposals
LANSING — Michigan lawmakers are rushing to pass budgets that slash core environmental programs -- especially ones protecting our lakes and waterways -- without considering the dire impacts they will have when combined with likely cuts at the federal level, a new report from the Michigan Environmental Council and Michigan League of Conservation Voters warns.
The report, prepared by Public Sector Consultants, compiles for the first time all the known environmental programs and protections for public health that are threatened by steep budget cuts currently proposed in Lansing and Washington. At risk are essential programs for protecting the Great Lakes, ensuring safe drinking water and cleaning up toxic contamination, the analysis indicates.
“This report shows that irresponsible, sweeping cuts at the state and federal levels will have real-world impacts from Menominee to Monroe, Taylor to Traverse City,” said Lisa Wozniak, Michigan LCV executive director. “This report is a wake-up call. We urge our elected officials in Lansing to pump the brakes and stop rushing to pass a budget that will only hasten our race to the bottom when it comes to the environment.”
Both the state House and Senate have proposed significant cuts to the Department of Environmental Quality budget. At the same time, President Trump has called for cutting the Environmental Protection Agency budget by nearly a third. Combined, those cuts would fundamentally weaken the the DEQ’s ability to protect public health and natural resources, since federal funds -- mostly from the EPA -- make up more than a quarter of DEQ’s budget in the 2017 fiscal year.
“We want Michigan residents to understand that the drastic budget cuts lawmakers are rushing to pass before summer break will mean less enforcement of the bedrock environmental standards that hold polluters accountable and protect our families from poisoned drinking water and dangerous air pollution,” said Chris Kolb, MEC president. “Failing to fund these essential programs will only cost us more down the road and put public health at risk in the meantime.”
Most notably, the House and Senate budgets do not address the fact that Clean Michigan Initiative funds, used to clean up hazardous sites in Michigan communities over the past decade, will no longer be available next year. By not replacing those funds, lawmakers are in effect cutting $14.9 million in cleanup funds for contamination that threatens drinking water supplies, our rivers and lakes, and the health of Michigan families.
Both chambers also cut Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed $4.9 million to address the emerging threat of vapor intrusion, which occurs when poisonous gases enter buildings built on sites where contamination wasn't cleaned up. Buildings in Michigan have been evacuated recently because of vapor intrusion and blood tests have found high levels of toxic chemicals in the blood of some people at those sites. The state estimates there are about 4,000 sites statewide at risk for vapor intrusion.
“These cuts aren’t just line items on budget documents, they are real threats to the health and safety of Michigan residents,” said Jeremy DeRoo, co-executive director of LINC UP, a community development organization in Grand Rapids working to educate and protect local residents from toxic vapor intrusion. “Our cities are facing many environmental risks that are now being exacerbated by these proposed budget cuts -- everything from worrying about whether the water coming out of their taps is safe to drink to living everyday with air laced with toxic chemicals. Now is the time to address these problems head-on. Ignoring them won’t make them go away.”
The report also looks at the impact on Michigan communities of major cuts to federal environmental programs proposed by President Trump. It specifically looks at key projects funded by the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Superfund, Brownfield, and Sea Grant programs, which are at risk of losing funding under the president’s current budget proposal.
“Our analysis shows that the Legislature’s significant cuts to environmental programs will have direct impacts on the ability of local governments and organizations to protect public health and the natural resources that are vitally important for Michigan’s economy and quality of life,” said Julie Metty Bennett, senior vice president of Public Sector Consultants. “The report also serves to inform policymakers on the range of cuts proposed at the state and federal level, effectively causing a one-two punch to their ability to ensure Michigan’s environmental policy is carried out in a way that maintains their constituents’ expectations in recreation, economic activity, and public health.”