Last month, President Donald Trump announced plans to slash budgets in most federal programs, not including Social Security and Medicare. This, officials propose, will fund a 10 percent increase in defense spending of $54 Billion.
Describing this as a “public safety budget,” Trump asserted his intention to increase law enforcement and keep out terrorists by reallocating funds, adding: “We’re going to start spending on infrastructure, big.”
But contrary to his apparent interest in public safety, 1 of the agencies that will be affected by budget cuts is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): the federal agency responsible for protecting human health. The White House recently sent out plans to cut the EPA’s budget by 24 percent, or $2 Billion. This will reduce its workforce from 15,000 to 12,000 – a number that hasn’t been seen since the 1980s.
Naturally, this move has come under criticism as health experts wonder how a smaller staff can successfully execute important health programs. So why does Trump deem it necessary, and what sort of impact can we expect?
What EPA Layoffs Could Mean for the American Public
During his campaign trail, Trump spoke of a “historic” increase in defense spending to win supporters. And although he has targeted EPA cuts to achieve this from the outset, the true cost is only now becoming clear.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) remarked that Trump’s budget plans would take “a meat ax to programs that benefit the middle-class.” He added in a statement: “A cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess and protect clean air and water.”
Sure enough, officials confirmed we should expect “massive, transformational cuts, particularly to climate-change programs” – just as Trump planned to abolish Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan. In other words, President Trump aims to spend more money on defense and military, while diminishing funding for an immediate and far-reaching issue: exposure to lethal toxins.
Harmful pollutants lingering in the air, soil, and water – including toxic chemicals, metals, and minerals such as asbestos – kill 12.6 million people worldwide each year. Lead, silica dust, and mercury, for example, are known causes of heart disease, respiratory problems, and cancer, but are abundant in the United States. Asbestos, meanwhile, is the only known cause of the rare and irreversibly lethal cancer mesothelioma, among other diseases.
Those affected the most by these poisons tend to be workers. Occupations such as plumbing, welding, firefighting, and the military pose a higher risk, especially of contracting asbestos-related diseases. These types of working environments are teeming with asbestos-containing buildings and materials built before the mineral’s hazards became known.
Federal cleanup programs, such as Superfund, are currently responsible for ridding the country of environmental contaminations. Having fewer hands on deck at the EPA could put these efforts on the back burner – making for the poor safety of Americans and the promotion of environmental problems.
Trump’s Plans to ‘Rebuild’ the Country and Forfeit Our Health
One EPA employee told CNN that the proposed budget cuts will reduce the workforce to performing basic functions only. Will “basic functions” include the disposal of dangerous materials such as asbestos? Given how little Trump and Pruitt think of this issue, probably not.
Mick Mulvaney, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, has reminded the media that the cuts serve to deliver on Trump’s key messages: rebuild the military, take care of veterans, increase school choice, and secure the border.
Yet if this means overlooking the safety of the working class – not to mention protecting the general public from serious environmental hazards and incurable disease – then the future is looking all the more bleak.
“I can predict with certainty that if those cuts prevail… millions of people around the country will be exposed to unhealthful air,” says Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. “It could literally be the difference between protecting public health and premature death.”