No one’s going to mistake Ohio Sen. Rob Portman for a climate hawk. He’s the kind of Republican pol who tries to have it both ways — not outright rejecting the scientific evidence, but also not voting to do much about it. He’s also fine with spending boatloads of polluter money running for reelection.
But when it comes to the health of the Great Lakes, which provide his state with significant economic benefits and hold 20 percent of the world’s freshwater, Portman doesn’t mess around. So this spring, when the Trump administration proposed slashing local cleanup efforts, Portman rushed from Capitol Hill to Cleveland to discuss saving nearly $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“We have a fight on our hands,” Portman told local leaders, claiming he was blindsided by the proposed cuts. His vote to confirm controversial new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt was made, in part, based on a pledge for continued initiative funding. Oops.
The Great Lakes cuts were part of a dramatic proposed reduction to the EPA that was included in President Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” — which would eliminate nearly a third of the agency’s $8 billion in total spending. The Great Lakes were far from the only victim. Other regional cleanup programs, including ones for the Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, and Puget Sound, all face extinction, and the White House proposed gutting the Office of Environmental Justice, eliminating nearly 80 percent of its budget.
Mustafa Ali, former head of that office and an EPA employee for nearly a quarter-century, resigned ahead of the skinny budget’s release, sensing that the administration had no interest in protecting or restoring the clean air, water, and soil of vulnerable communities. Indeed, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the administration’s budget would cut local and state clean air and water grants, hamstring the EPA’s enforcement office, stymie efforts to clean up Superfund sites, and pass the buck on efforts to reduce pesticide and lead exposure. A Sierra Club campaign director called it “just racist.”
Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University known as the “father of environmental justice,” warns that the Trump budget would tear down the entire U.S. environmental protection apparatus. Low-income folks and communities of color would suffer the most, Bullard says — as always happens in these cases — but everyone would feel the negative impact.
“The harsh nature in which this administration is approaching issues of environment, health, energy, and community well-being,” Bullard says, “will be devastating for the larger society.”