Environmentalists and public employee unions say a lack of money was behind Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) poor response to lead contamination in the Flint, Mich. water supply.
“What most people don’t understand is that nearly half of EPA’s budget goes to states, tribal authorities, and municipalities, and of the remaining half, almost half of that goes to contractors,” John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees chapter representing EPA employees involved in Flint, told The Washington Post Thursday. “U.S. EPA does not have the sufficient capacity to assist. So, issues such as the one which occurred in Flint, Mich. happen due, in part, to minimal federal oversight and enforcement.”
Environmentalists and unions point out that the EPA’s budget peaked in 2010 and that employment in the agency has declined. The agency spent $10.3 billion annually during stimulus, but the agency requested only $8.6 billion for 2016. EPA employed 17,359 workers during peak its peak in 2011, compared to only 15,408 in 2014.
This analysis ignores the agency received an additional $4 billion in court ordered environmental projects and another $404 million in judicial penalties in 2015.
Not all public employees think the problem in Flint is because of money woes.
“For an agency facing frozen if not shrunken budgets, EPA should be considering strengthening its irreplaceable core functions of regulation and enforcement while jettisoning its questionable public education and community outreach efforts.” Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, wrote in a press release.
EPA enforcement data for 2015 showed the agency opened 213 environmental cases. That’s 87 fewer than two years before.
Susan Hedman, the EPA regional administrator responsible for Michigan, resigned last week after she did not publicize the EPA’s concern over water quality in Flint. EPA water experts authored an internal memo about the water problems, according to documents obtained by Virginia Tech. Hedman downplayed the memo and brushed aside concerns about high levels of lead in the city’s water.
The American Civil Liberties Union accused the EPA in October of attempting to suppress information about the crisis. Emails released last Wednesday show that the environmental agency spent months pointing fingers at local and state officials for the lead problem and downplaying concerns.
“EPA is rife with incompetence and Region 5 is no exception,” Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote in a statement. “Mismanagement has plagued the region for far too long and Ms. Hedman’s resignation is way overdue. The lack of accountability throughout the EPA has allowed problems to fester and crises to explode. ”
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