The Trump administration has proposed cutting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31 percent. It’s also rolled back a number of Obama-era environmental rules. And news outlets are reporting staffing at the agency is expected to drop to its lowest levels since the Reagan era.
WSHU’s All Things Considered host, Bill Buchner, spoke with Robert Klee, the commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, to find out how these changes might affect Connecticut.
With all these changes underway at the EPA, which is the biggest concern for you?
The budget front is concerning. The federal funds for our agency are about 25 percent or so of our total $175 million operating budget. Of those federal funds, EPA funding is about 60 percent or about $34 million a year. So that’s a significant potential exposure for us at the agency.
Would that have an affect on any projects that are happening in Connecticut?
It sure does. The Trump proposal, which I should say was only a proposal and it look like the Congress has pushed back quite a bit at least fiscal year 2018, it hits all the things we do.
So things that make our communities more resilient. The things we do on the Long Island Sound, that was zeroed out in the Trump budget. Our basics, our bread and butter programs: clean water, clean air, hazardous waste, all could see up to 40 percent-type cuts to those state grants.
Brownfields, the great work we’ve been doing in partnership with EPA on cleaning up those old industrial sites and transforming them back into productive use, that’s on the chopping block, and then all the work we do on climate change that has a federal component.
How many of those Superfund sites are in the state right now being cleaned up?
Superfund sites, we only have a couple. The Brownfields program is much broader. And this is where we’ve been using tens of millions of dollars of federal EPA funds to leverage $100 million plus under the Malloy administration. Those are those old factory buildings, old mill buildings, that when they’re brought back are now great assets to communities.
We were in Shelton just a few weeks ago celebrating the work they had done recreating an old factory site into a park along the river, that’s now where their farmers markets are and it’s now a vibrant hub of activity, where once there was a derelict or dilapidated old building.
Have the Trump administration’s rollbacks of Obama-era rules, like the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Act provision that protected smaller streams, had an impact on policies or projects in the state?
There a lot of things that we have on the books already in Connecticut that are already protected. On the climate front, we’re members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: a nine state coalition that just a few weeks ago announced that we’re going to improve and continue reductions in the power sector by another 30 percent, which will be a total of 65 percent lower emissions than when we started this group in 2009.
So again, we don’t need the federal government in that regard because we’re nine states, Republican and Democratic states joined together, know that working together through a cap and trade system we can address emissions from the power sector and invest proceeds from our auctions in helping solve the problem.
What type of climate resiliency projects are taking place right now in Connecticut?
In Connecticut the Governor and General Assembly and our agency and UConn helped develop the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation. We call it CIRA.
And it’s a joint effort to really supply our municipalities with world class research from UConn that can be applied to their local level and improve the resiliency of communities.
We’re an agency, we collect baseline data. We’re seeing changes in Long Island Sound, we’re seeing sea level rise and the potential here in the Northeast in particular, intense rain events followed by drought. How are we going to manage that? How are we going to adapt to these new normal conditions? So through CIRA and work we’re doing with the Department of Housing and funding from the Sandy event, we’re developing a resiliency plan that communities can use.