President’s Budget Threatens Cities’ Ability to Act on Environmental & Infrastructure Issues

Cuts in the administration’s budget proposal threaten funds that cities rely on to invest in water management, clean energy and revitalization efforts across the country. Here’s how these cuts could impact your city.

Proposed cuts to regional water restoration programs would cost local governments $427 million in funds to help clean up waterways and natural environments like the Chesapeake Bay. (Getty Images)

This April recess, NLC is encouraging city leaders to engage with their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts for two weeks. Don’t let Congress leave America’s cities behind — join us this week and next as we #FightTheCuts proposed in the administration’s budget.

This post was co-authored by Mayor James Diossa, Peter Friedrichs and Will Downie. It is part of a series on the 2018 federal budget.

Proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) threaten the funds that cities of all sizes rely on to invest in water management, clean energy and revitalization efforts across the country, with many of the programs directly benefiting the most vulnerable members of society. Here’s how these cuts could impact your city.

Water

While President Donald Trump’s proposal increases funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs and calls for level funding for WIFIA — a loan and loan guarantee program for large water infrastructure projects — it eliminates the Rural Utilities Services’ Water and Waste Water Loan and Grant Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program provides critical funds for rural communities across the country to maintain water infrastructure and address their unique water needs. Together, these water infrastructure programs helped small cities like Garber, Oklahoma, (population 842) protect their community’s drinking water by replacing aged water pipes and large cities like Boston (population 645,966) complete a landfill closure and reduce rainwater infiltration.

Regional water restoration programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Initiative are also slated for elimination — a move that would cost local governments $427 million in funds to help clean up waterways and natural environments. These funds allowed the village of Shorewood, Wisconsin, to reduce contamination at Atwater Beach by investing in improved sewer systems and the city of Port Huron, Michigan, to restore 5,000 square feet of fish habitat and provide recreation areas for residents. Even if funding is slashed, cities will still have to meet the federal requirements for pollution reduction, creating an unfunded mandate.

Land

Although not specifically mentioned in the proposal, two key programs that help local governments establish local parks and greenways and revitalize abandoned properties may face cuts: the Land Conservation Fund and the Brownfields Redevelopment Program. The DOI Land and Water Conservation Fund helped the city of Seattle develop its now famous Gasworks Park. Without the assistance, the city would not have been able to transform an old gasification plant and its surrounding area into one of Seattle’s landmark public spaces. Meanwhile, the city of Central Falls, Rhode Island, was able to use a $200,000 EPA Brownfields grant to restore an abandoned mill building into successful mixed-use retail and business space. Together, these programs grow local economies by creating jobs, increasing property values, and attracting businesses and private capital.

Energy

The DOE Weatherization Assistance Program and the State Energy Program — which together provide over $300 million in assistance to local governments to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, including assistance to low-income residents to help lower their energy bills — are proposed to be eliminated. These programs allowed the city of Philadelphia to invest in innovative weatherization ideas that led to an increase in the total number of weatherized homes in the city, a reduction to the weatherization cost per home, increased energy savings, and new weatherization jobs in Philadelphia.

Air and Climate

The president’s proposed budget also targets programs that help cities reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and meet their climate action goals. The EPA Diesel Emission Reduction Program encourages cities to switch to cleaner-burning diesel vehicles. Last year, the program provided $7.7 million to 90 different cities to provide safer and cleaner school buses through replacement and retrofitting rebates. In addition, the proposed budget would eliminate climate change research and partnership programs totaling $100 million that cities rely on for data and information on climate change impacts on their communities.

Personnel

Out of all the federal agencies, EPA faces the biggest hit overall with a proposal to cut funding by 31 percent and eliminate 3,200 jobs, or 20 percent of its employees. These staff cuts will have a negative effect on EPA’s role as a regulator and will impede the ability of local elected officials to do their jobs. EPA approves a variety of permits and facilities that local governments rely on, like wastewater treatment plants. A “slimmed down” EPA will still have to process permits and projects, but a smaller staff will lead to delays and reduced technical assistance and will hurt local governments’ ability to provide the safe and clean environment they are entrusted to maintain.

Cities across the country will suffer under the White House’s budget plan. The president’s proposal will see cities large and small working with fewer funds and a less responsive regulatory regime, crippling their ability to provide vital services and infrastructure to their citizens. These cuts are bad for every city in the country, and pose a threat to the environment, our economy and our future.

Learn more about NLC’s #FightTheCuts campaign here.

About the authors:

James Diossa is the mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

 

Peter Friedrichs is the director of planning and economic development for the city of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

 

Will Downie is an intern with the National League of Cities’ Federal Advocacy team.

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