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EPA Funding Cuts Would Affect Nevada's Air, Water

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In the past five years, Nevada has received $83 million dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency.

That funding has helped to keep the water and air clear, plus it has funded the clean up of contaminated industrial sites.

But that funding could be reduced under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget.

Elgie Holstein is the senior director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

His group studied what programs would be impacted if the proposed cuts went through. They looked at several states, including Nevada.

“We felt that Nevada would be a good state to look at because it has a mixture of urban and rural communities with a broad cross section of EPA programs that help those communities,” Holstein said.

He pointed out that Nevada has lots of abandoned mines that need to be cleaned up and secured. It also has serious air quality problems in Clark County.

One of the programs that the EPA partially funds in Nevada is air quality monitoring. While it tells allergy sufferers just how bad it's going to be in the spring and fall, it also tells people with serious lung diseases whether they can go outside.

Dr. Jim Christensen is an allergist and immunologist, who also served on the Clark County Board of Health. He said the monitoring could mean the difference between serious health complications for people with asthma or another chronic lung disease, or staying indoors and out of trouble.

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Christensen said many people just do not understand where money from the EPA goes.

“The public is totally unaware that EPA monies are used to protect their health and give them a clean, safe environment,” he said.

Holstein said currently the air quality monitoring in the state gets about 30 percent of its budget from the federal government, and the president's budget plans to cut that by a third. 

The president would also like to scale back is money to clean up brownfield sites. Brownfield sites are places that are contaminated from previous industrial use, and they must be cleaned up before they can be reused.

Holstein says not properly funding that cleanup can actually hurt economic development because it means the land cannot be repurposed.

“If you make major cuts in these programs, you simply slow the clock down – way down – in terms of when you can ever expect to redevelop the sites so you can create new jobs and economic growth,” he said.

While air quality monitoring and brownfield site cleanup might be reduced, the president's budget looks to eliminate funding to help end runoff pollution.

Holstein said runoff from farms, roads, parking lots and other potential pollution areas gets into surface water.

“When we’re talking about water, we’re talking about a variety of ways pollutants make their way into groundwater and surface water and threaten public health in multiple pathways,” he said.

Christensen believes part of the issue is people are now used to clean water and less polluted air.

“The real problem is we take so much of this for granted. We take clean air, we take clean water for granted," he said. "We’ve got to build in the capacity and the resiliency so that if something should happen we can respond to it.”

And ultimately cutting the EPA's budget doesn't change the state and local government obligations, Holstein said. By law, states and local jurisdictions have to meet minimum standards of air quality and water cleanliness.

He said cutting federal funds will just "shift the burden" back to Nevada and will tell communities that they're on their own when it comes to keeping a clean, safe and healthy environment.

It will be up to Congress to decide whether to pass the president's proposed cuts.

Guests

Elgie Holstein, senior director, Environmental Defense Fund; Dr. Jim Christensen, former Clark County Board of Health member

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