The number one question being asked by many Gowanus residents these days is: "Will the Superfund clean-up of the toxic Gowanus Canal be affected by the proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency?"
As we all know by now, the Environmental Protection Agency is the hardest-hit agency under President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposals. The budget would cut funding for the Agency by 31 percent from its current level, EPA’s staff could be cut by about 21 percent, and the Superfund program, responsible for cleanups of contaminated sites, would have its funding cut from about $1.1 billion to $762 million.
In addition, according to Inside EPA, the Agency's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is currently developing "a plan for consolidating its 10 regional offices into eight, a step being justified as a way to realize 'efficiencies' but which is already sparking concerns that it could spread an already strapped agency too thin to accomplish its mission. In addition, some state sources are concerned that cutting back on the number of regional offices could also limit support..."
"The budget the President announced promises to unravel all of our gains und promises to send us back to the sad old days of choking smog and toxins in our rivers and streams," according to Schneiderman. "There are 85 Superfund sites in New York State, all off them are now at risk. If Trump gets his way, funding for this critical program will be cut by 43%. A hollowed out EPA, with far fewer staff and an administrator who does not seem to care about environmental protection or believe in climate change could easily kneecap all efforts to clean up this canal and could have a devastating effect on Superfund sites where the clean-up hasn't even begun."
"The canal right behind us is a terrific example. It has taken decades of hard work and constant advocacy to finally put this canal on a path of clean-up. It is being cleaned up now as part of an extremely successful, cost effective program known as Superfund," Schneiderman said.
"The clean-up of the Gowanus Canal could be slowed by these cutbacks. The Administration could delay further proceedings. This is not necessary and this is something that we are going to fight against." Schneiderman further said: "There is no rational basis for these damaging cuts. EPA represents about 2/10th of 1% of the Federal budget, yet it has a positive effect on the lives of every single American."
"If Donald Trump and [EPA Administrator] Scott Pruit think that they can get away with the massive rollback of programs that are critical of the health and wellbeing of ordinary Americans, they have another thing coming," he added.
"No New York should have to wait a single day longer than necessary to clean toxins out of our waterways," Schneiderman concluded.
"The beauty of the Superfund program is that the polluters pay for the clean-up. This is what is going to happen here. We don't need federal money to actually clean the canal. Of course, that only works if the EPA can administer the program."
In the case of the Gowanus Canal Superfund, Lander mentioned that the EPA does not yet have a "signed consent decree that tell the polluters that they are on the hook."
According to Lander: "If the administrative budget is cut and the Superfund staff can't work on the administrative order, the polluters won't pay to clean-up the canal. That would be devastating for this community and foolish for all of us."
During the press conference, neither Councilman Lander nor New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman mentioned that NYC Department of City Planning is currently studying Gowanus for future re-zoning and development. A re-zoning could bring thousands of new residents to the banks of this polluted waterway.
Ironically, the press conference was being held in front of Lightstone Development's new 700 residential units, and across from a large development parcel, where Jared Kuschner, President Trump's son-in-law, plans on building a 30 story luxury apartment building.
Now that the Gowanus community has learned from Schneiderman and Lander that the EPA budget cuts could certainly slow down and undermine the Superfund clean-up of the Gowanus Canal, perhaps the next question asked by the community should be:
"If that is the case, should the rezoning of the Gowanus be set aside until we are certain that the canal clean-up moves forward in a timely fashion under the Trump administration?"