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Rough Waters Ahead:

The Impact of the Trump Administration’s EPA Budget Cuts on Puget Sound

by Elizabeth Ridlington and Katherine Eshel, Frontier Group, and Bruce Speight, Environment Washington Research & Policy Center

Executive Summary

Clean water in Puget Sound is critical to the health and welfare of our families, our communities, and wildlife. Approximately 4.4 million people live in the Puget Sound watershed, and millions more come each year to fish, boat and enjoy its water and wildlife.

Puget Sound’s beauty hides some of the challenges it faces. Salmon and other wildlife populations struggle, past industrial pollution in some areas has made fish unsafe to eat, and untreated sewage pollutes shellfish beds. But with the dedicated work of local, state and federal governments – along with residents – the long process of restoring Puget Sound to health is underway.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been essential to those efforts – supporting and working with state and local efforts to keep pollution out of our waterways, hold polluters accountable, restore degraded waterways to health, and study and monitor Puget Sound to ensure its future health and safety.

That progress is now in jeopardy. The Trump administration has proposed deep and devastating cuts to the EPA’s budget. Even if the president’s proposed cuts are scaled back by Congress, they would still have profound negative impacts on the agency’s ability to deter pollution from industrial facilities, agriculture, sewage treatment plants, runoff and other sources, while undercutting efforts to restore iconic waterbodies such as Puget Sound.

America can’t go back to the bad old days. We need a strong EPA with sufficient resources to support local cleanup efforts and partner with the state and local communities to protect Puget Sound.

Puget Sound is being protected with funding and effort from the EPA. The EPA has worked to:

  • Keep pollution out of our waterways: Stormwater runoff – which carries oil, pesticides, fertilizer, pet wastes and other pollutants into waterways – is the most common pathway for toxic chemicals to enter Puget Sound. Military training, chemical storage and other activities at Joint Base Lewis-McChord all pollute runoff from the facility. The EPA, which has sole authority over federal facilities in Washington, established an innovative stormwater discharge permit in 2013 for Joint Base Lewis-McChord to limit its runoff pollution. Continued funding for the EPA is essential for it to fulfill grant promises to tribal and local efforts to address stormwater pollution across Puget Sound.
  • Hold polluters accountable: Shellfish harvested from water polluted with fecal bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella can make people sick. Dairy farms are one source of the fecal bacteria pollution that threatens public health. In 2015, the EPA took action against the R. Bajema Farm, a dairy in Lynden, for discharging water loaded with manure into a tributary of Puget Sound near shellfish beds. The farm had to pay a fine and correct the problem that allowed the pollution. The EPA continues to support the work of the Department of Ecology to monitor and address fecal bacteria pollution, such as from municipal sewer systems.
  • Restore waterways to health: Marshland in the Skokomish River estuary, at the southern end of Hood Canal, once provided habitat for salmon and shellfish, and helped control flooding of nearby tribal lands. Construction of dikes, culverts and tide gates to create farmland destroyed more than half of the estuary’s fertile marshes. The EPA contributed $85,000 to the final phase of restoration efforts, led by the Skokomish Tribe and Mason County, to remove tide gates, replace culverts, and open hundreds of acres of habitat to fish. In the 10 years since work began, the Skokomish Estuary has nearly been restored to its historic size, shellfish beds have been restored, the size of juvenile salmon has increased, eelgrass beds that provide habitat have doubled, and flooding has decreased. EPA funding is critical for leveraging state and local funds for other restoration projects across Puget Sound.
  • Conduct research and educate the public: The population of endangered orcas residing in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea has dropped to fewer than 80 whales, down from approximately 100 in the late 1990s. One cause of the orcas’ decline is contamination of Puget Sound with persistent organic pollutants such as toxic flame retardants, PCBs, lubricants, plasticizers and the banned insecticide DDT. The EPA has funded research by the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology to better understand how these types of pollutants affect orcas and salmon, the orcas’ main food source. Continued research funding is needed for greater knowledge to develop strategies to restore the orca population to health.

Table ES-1. How Clean Water in Puget Sound Depends on the EPA

Puget Sound Is Cleaner Because the EPA: The EPA Continues to Protect Clean Water by:
Limited stormwater runoff from
Joint Base Lewis-McChord
Overseeing state permit programs
Fined R. Bajema Farm for manure pollution from dairy
cows polluting shellfish beds in Whatcom County
Working with the Department of Ecology to oversee municipal utility upgrades to limit raw sewage releases and runoff
Directed Lockheed Martin to clean up
pollution from a closed shipyard in Elliott Bay
Overseeing cleanup at 51 Superfund sites in Washington
Helped fund restoration of salmon and shellfish
habitat in the Skokomish River estuary
Supporting restoration work on the Puget Sound Action Agenda, a list of high-priority restoration projects
Funded removal of culvert that blocked passage of
spawning salmon in Chico Creek in Kitsap County
Funding culvert removal and replacement projects to restore salmon habitat
Funded research identifying stormwater as cause of
coho salmon deaths and demonstrating benefits of
filtering stormwater through soil
Supporting research into stormwater filtration methods
Supports research into impacts of persistent pollutants
on endangered orcas in Puget Sound
Supporting research into new threats to water quality and aquatic wildlife

 

The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the EPA budget put these and other critical functions in danger – threatening the future health of Puget Sound.

  • Water-related programs run directly by the EPA would be slashed by 34 percent, hobbling the EPA’s ability to prevent runoff pollution, monitor water quality, establish pollution limits, protect watersheds and wetlands, and pursue polluters.
  • In addition, EPA grants to state and local governments for clean water would be slashed by 23 percent – making it more difficult for state agencies to do their jobs and delaying important locally led cleanup efforts. For example, the proposed budget would end grants to state governments and tribal agencies to address pollution from stormwater runoff, farms and other dispersed sources.
  • Research and development funding would be cut by 47 percent, limiting the EPA’s ability to help scientists, citizens and local communities understand the ever-changing threats facing their waterways. For instance, the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research program would be cut by more than a third.
  • EPA grants to state, tribal and local governments would also be slashed – making it more difficult for already cash-strapped state agencies to do their jobs and delaying important locally led cleanup efforts.
  • Funding for the Puget Sound Partnership, supported through the National Estuary Program, would be eliminated. Because every $1 of funding through the National Estuary Program leverages, on average, $18 in additional funds from local and state sources, zeroing out this federal funding could have far-reaching effects.
  • Funding for EPA’s Superfund cleanup program would be reduced by 30 percent, slowing progress on existing cleanup sites and preventing new cleanups from being added.
  • Overall, the EPA budget would be reduced by 31 percent.

Table ES-2. Estimated EPA Grant Funding Losses to Washington if the Trump Administration's Proposed Budget Is Enacted (table shows selected programs)

Program (most recent year of funding
for which data are available)
Funding in most recent year Estimated lost funding due to proposed Trump admin. cuts
Water Pollution Control Grants (FY16)

$5,631,000

$1,689,300

Nonpoint Pollution Control Grants (FY15)

$5,970,458

$5,970,458

Drinking Water Protection and Enforcement Grants (FY17)

$2,731,000

$819,300

TOTAL

$14,332,458

$8,479,058

Note: Estimates are calculated assuming EPA budget cuts affect all states by the same percentage. Reductions are based on grants from most recent fiscal year.

The job of cleaning up and protecting Puget Sound is not done. Continuing pollution from urban runoff, sewer systems and industrial facilities – along with the emergence of new pollution threats from new classes of industrial and household chemicals – calls for continued vigilance and action. Only a well-funded EPA can continue the region’s legacy of progress in cleaning up Puget Sound and ensure that it is healthy and safe for us and future generations to enjoy.

Download Frontier Group - Rough Waters Ahead - web.pdf