Trump’s budget spells end for some Texas environmental projects


Highlights

White House calls for “streamlining environmental protection.”

Texas unlikely to ante up money to continue programs, says one former state environmental official.

Even as EPA expected to keep existing grant obligations, future grant opportunities may vanish.

Programs that aim to rid water wells of arsenic in poor pockets of South Texas, prevent bioterrorism and redevelop former industrial sites into parks in East Austin appear to be in jeopardy under President Donald Trump’s budget proposal.

Seeking a “broader strategy of streamlining environmental protection,” the White House has suggested cutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget by nearly a third.

To achieve its aims, the Trump budget proposal, released Thursday, “eliminates or substantially reduces federal investment in state environmental activities.”

If Congress adopts the Trump proposal, a range of programs in Texas are likely to feel the pinch.

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Nearly 10 percent of state environmental protection programs are paid for directly by EPA grants that now appear to be in jeopardy.

Those grants amount to nearly $50 million this year.

Among them: $500,000 for dam safety; $2.4 million for the BioWatch program, which aims for the early detection of bioterrorism agents to enable the earliest possible response to an attack; and $2.3 million to address leaking underground oil storage tanks.

The biggest chunk of grant-making from the EPA to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is $21.2 million, to help Texas address its environmental priorities, cut pollution, and achieve administrative savings.

“The budget returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities,” according to the budget proposal.

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But Texas officials are unlikely to step in with state money to prop up these programs, said Larry Soward, a Gov. Rick Perry appointee who served as a commissioner at the state environmental agency from 2003 to 2009.

The Trump budget also calls for eliminating EPA “infrastructure assistance” along the Mexico border.

More than 300 communities in Texas, many in border areas, lack access to potable water or adequate wastewater disposal.

In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the EPA is working with leaders representing more than a dozen colonias to address a malfunctioning wastewater facility and the cleanup of a hazardous superfund site.

Another EPA border program involves collaboration with Mexico to reduce air pollution, improve clean water access, and improve the disposal of waste like tires and trash.

And the budget would phase out EPA’s research grants to environmental scientists and engineers, which the Trump budget refers to as “extramural activities.”

Those grants include just over $3.9 million awarded last year to the University of Texas to develop research into water infrastructure.

Researchers have said EPA is likely to meet its current grant obligations, including an $820,000 grant awarded in 2016 to the city of Austin to clean up former industrial sites and redevelop them into things like affordable housing and parks.



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