EPA budget cuts stir controversy

By Alex Bonus | gargoyle@flagler.edu

ab1The Environmental Protection Agency would suffer a $1.3 billion loss under President Barack Obama’s proposed 2012 budget, a modest reduction compared to the $3 billion Republicans hope to cut from the organization’s funding this year.

Released Feb. 14, the president’s plan came three days after House Republicans introduced revisions to the current budget, which would reduce EPA funding from $10.3 billion to about $7.5 billion. Obama’s budget would reduce funding to $9 billion next year, demonstrating the stark divide between the financial goals of both parties.

Local conservative groups took offense to Obama’s proposal. Murray Goff, a member of the leadership council for the First Coast Tea Party, said the president’s budget is both a joke and an insult.

“The president continues to do everything wrong but tells us it’s OK,” Goff said. “It’s like there’ a dog peeing on our legs, and they’re calling it rain.”

Kathleen Barnard, a volunteer for the Republican Club of Greater St. Augustine, said a push to control the EPA is overdue. She believes EPA regulations on industry emissions have made it difficult for corporations to grow and create jobs.

“That’s not to say we’re advocating dirty water or dirty air,” Barnard said. “But we can always pare down our spending a little.”

The EPA budget averaged $7.8 billion between 1999 and 2009. In 2010, federal funding for the EPA jumped to $10.3 billion, and the current budget allocates another $10.3 billion for 2011. House Republicans hope to amend this number to levels similar to those before the Obama administration.

Both proposals call for decreases to funding for water quality and water policy programs on the national and state levels. However, St. Johns River Water Management District spokesman Ed Garland said it’s still too early to tell if federal cuts would impact local water management facilities.

“Our spending was cut by $50 million from last year,” Garland said. “But we’ve still done everything we needed to do. Whatever happens we will deal with it as it comes.”

Monique Borboen, the Northeast Florida policy associate for the Audubon Society, worries how EPA cuts would affect programs researching climate change. Though Obama’s budget would increase funding for clean energy research, Republican revisions would prevent the EPA from using funds to limit state greenhouse gas emissions.

“Past administrations did not give enough money to these programs,” Borboen said. “We need to address this issue and we need to take action.”

Local Democrats share Borboen’s concerns. Annette Cappella, the chair for the St. Johns County Democratic Executive Committee, believes these cuts take steps in the wrong directions.

“We are killing our planet,” Cappella said. “We need to be working on research and jobs in clean energy and green energy.”

However, Cappella said the proposals are not final and will change before the next fiscal year begins in October. As for the Republican revisions, she remains unconcerned.

“They’re just flexing their muscles,” she said. “The political pendulum always swings way over to an extreme before coming back to the center.”

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