President Donald Trump’s talk about and actions toward the EPA have raised alarm bells among environmentalists and scientists, but state agencies in Delaware are taking a wait and see approach to how everything will shake out.
“We’re just simply monitoring it right now,” said Robert Zimmerman, Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “There have been times in the past when there has been pushback on environmental programs, particularly the EPA. At the moment the scrutiny seems to be focused on the agency itself.”
Trump raised eyebrows Jan. 24 when it ordered a media blackout at the agency, instituted a “regulatory freeze” and told staff not to award any new contracts or grants. The freeze was lifted last week, but the order also put on hold dozens of rules put in place by the Obama administration. At the time Trump staffers said such actions were not unusual when a new administration comes in, but the president raised more concerns last week when he issued an order saying that for any new government regulation adopted an agency would have to rescind two.
In a statement, Union of Concerned Scientists president Ken Kimmell called the order “absurd.”
“If, for example, the EPA wants to issue a new rule to protect kids from mercury exposure, will it need to get rid of two other science-based rules, such as limiting lead in drinking water and cutting pollution from school buses?” Kimmell asked. “It is also likely illegal. Congress has not called upon EPA to choose between clean air and clean water, and the president cannot do this by executive fiat.”
A nonprofit founded in 1969 by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ mission, according to its website, is to “combine the knowledge and influence of the scientific community with the passion of concerned citizens to build a healthy planet and a safer world.”
Zimmerman said DNREC gets funding from the EPA to administer programs governing air pollution, water pollution and hazardous waste. In fiscal year 2015, he said, that amounted to $1.2 million for air pollution programs, $1.2 million for hazardous waste and $900,000 for water pollution. There is also a revolving loan fund that helps communities pay for water and sewer systems which, in 2015, amounted to $6.8 million, as well as regulatory assistance specific to the Chesapeake Bay which amounted to $3.5 million.
“As far as we can see we don’t anticipate those numbers changing at the moment,” he said.
One area where Zimmerman is concerned, however, is research. The EPA funds a lot of research programs which tell us a lot about our impact on the environment. That is used to determine regulations and best practices.
“Without the research it will affect our understanding of the environment, but that is a long-term issue,” Zimmerman said.
At the end of the day, whether a program is effective is a priority, but without science it would be impossible to determine a program’s effectiveness.
“We do a lot of monitoring ourselves, but when it comes to the large scale, what our standards should be, we rely on the EPA to tell us what the science says and how safe is safe,” he said.
Andrea Wojcik, chief of community relations at the Division of Public Health, said the Office of Drinking Water’s Public Water System Supervision grant is being processed by the regional EPA office. That grant funds positions related to the Public Water System Supervision program, including some Office of Drinking Water staff and some Division of Public Health Laboratory staff.
Other programs, including the radon grant, lead grant and money for the State Drinking Water Revolving Fund won’t be affected this year.
“Projects are proceeding as normal,” she said. “Funds already have been awarded for this grant year.”
She said the grant administrator has met with the regional EPA representative and he indicated to continue with business as usual and to plan to submit the next grant, due in June, on schedule.
“DPH is focused on ensuring that funds for its core EPA-funded health systems protection programs, including drinking water, lead and radon are being maintained,” she said.