President Trump released his budget proposal Thursday that lays out his plan to bulk up defense and homeland security spending, and thereby dramatically cut funds to the Environmental Protection Agency (as well as foreign aid, the arts, and public broadcasting). As reported by amNewYork, these proposed EPA cuts, which total $2.6 billion or 31 percent, include staff reductions and program eliminations, which may make the city’s drinking water and air quality vulnerable to pollution.
Judith Enck, New York’s former regional EPA administrator, said there are many “potentially serious implications” for the city, with one of the most glaring being the risk to the safety of the city’s drinking water. Enck, who was appointed by President Obama but resigned on January 18, said while not all of New York’s water is filtered, it remains safe to drink: “There is a real effort to protect it at the source,” Enck said. “EPA staff are very diligent about looking at (water) test results.”
If staff who check water for parasites and harmful bacteria get fired, this could severely limit protections against polluted water. In addition to these vulnerabilities, NYC has a known problem with sewage entering waterways like the Hudson and East rivers, the Gowanus Canal and the New York Harbor after heavy rain. When sewer plants were damaged during Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of EPA staff responded to help get them back online and working, but it remains unseen how these major cuts to the agency will affect its ability to respond to emergencies in the future.
Despite growing concern from environmental experts, the city isn’t panicking yet. Raul Contreras, a spokesman for Mayor de Blasio, said because the city Department of Environmental Protection collects $3.8 billion each year to fully fund both capital and water quality assurance programs, these federal cuts “will not impact NYC’s high quality water supply.”
New York officials have expressed the pressing need for investment in water infrastructure, especially after over 562 water main breaks were recorded in 2015 in just NYC alone. In February, State Comptroller DiNapoli estimated it would cost $40 billion to repair and upgrade the state’s water infrastructure over the next 20 years. Last week, Governor Cuomo said he’s willing to invest $60 million to support vital drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the state, as part of his budget’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017, which will total an investment of around $2 billion.
- NYC Water 101: From the Catskill Aqueduct and Robotic Measurements to Your Tap
- De Blasio to allocate $300 million and accelerate construction of third NYC water tunnel
- Repairs to New York state’s water infrastructure could cost $40B