Ideologues seeking to kneecap federal and state environmental protections

Budget battles in Salem and Washington, D.C. should not be an excuse to compromise the very ecosystems that provide what’s essential to life and prosperity.

By Andrea Salinas of Portland, Oregon. Andrea is the legislative director for Oregon Environmental Council. In 2009, she co-authored "Green jobs in Oregon should be fair jobs, too."

Oregonians act on our long-standing environmental values in choices we make every day. But individuals can’t shop, work, parent, or vote their way to clean air, clean water and a healthy landscape without a little cooperation. That’s why we’ve established government agencies with a mission to protect what we value most. Tragically, the agencies that protect our well-being are now being eviscerated with unprecedented budget cuts at both the state and federal level.

In Congress, the House of Representatives has proposed slashing the Clean Water Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds in half, which would create a $21 million hole in Oregon’s programs to ensure clean and healthy water. These are dollars desperately needed by municipalities across Oregon to upgrade or replace aging infrastructure.

The same House bill proposes to strangle programs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including activities to reduce pollution that is changing our climate and set national emission standards. The bill also calls for a “stop work” on a program designed to help consumers make wise energy-saving choices: the Energy Star program.

This is not across-the-board belt-tightening: this is an ideologically driven effort to force disproportionate cuts to certain agencies, hog-tying our ability to protect the very natural resources on which our prosperity depends.

It’s not only a federal problem; Oregon’s Legislature just voted to shrink the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ’s) budget by eighteen percent, of which a portion relied on federal stimulus dollars. Water quality programs and air quality protection are on the chopping block.

One unreasonable provision in Salem was eerily similar to the ideological battle against agencies being waged in Washington, D.C. Several legislators sought to kneecap DEQ’s plan to increase monitoring of toxic pollutants in our air by denying DEQ the ability to seek a time-limited federal grant that would fund five air quality monitoring jobs over two years. Thanks to several champions and advocates, this job-killing, anti-environmental provision did not pass.

It wasn’t so long ago when the Willamette River was so polluted that fish could not survive, and workers would refuse to do riverside construction projects. A generation ago, 40 days a year were too smoggy to safely breathe in Portland, and the city violated health standards for carbon monoxide once every three days. The Medford area exceeded safe carbon monoxide levels every other day in the late 1970s. In Klamath Falls, Oregon, fine soot pollution was measured at the highest levels in the country. Thanks to an agency program in partnership with the community, air in Klamath Falls hasn’t exceeded soot standards since 1992. We’ve made progress; but we also face great new challenges. We can’t afford to let our environmental protections slip.

It's no small feat to find budget balance, and it’ll take bold leadership and innovative thinking. We can’t allow federal lawmakers to shift costs to states with global spending caps. And we can’t jeopardize programs essential to our health and well being without first looking closely at all budgets, including defense and corporate subsidies. No federal matching fund should go untapped, no overdue tax payment uncollected, no tax loophole overlooked or revenue increase unexplored.

Budget battles in Salem and Washington, D.C. should not be an excuse to compromise the very ecosystems that provide what’s essential to life and prosperity. As Oregonians, we must fight this battle on both state and federal fronts, ensuring that those who represent us make policy decisions that will protect the health and environment we’ve long valued.

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    Well turnabout is fair play. For 20+ years, ideologues have been the ones promulgating environmental rules. This is one of several reasons why manufacturing has moved to less regulated countries.

    The EPA has run roughshod for years. Time for a little moderation.

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      Just goes to show the importance of perspective. Ken Ray lives in a very different universe than I do. He sees environmental protection as a drag on economy, while I see it as a way to preserve conditions that make economy possible. As human industry creates environmental pressures that require vigorous effort to assuage, Ray and his ilk call for "moderation." They appear insane to me, incapable of recognizing obvious conditions and forces. Unfortunately, they have more money and power than I do.

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    I guarantee you I don't have as much money and power as you do.

    And that universe I live in? It's called "reality".

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      Perhaps not you personally, Ken. I was thinking of the Koch Bros and the board members of Exxon-Mobil, BP, Chevron, Peabody and Massey.

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