Colonists started polluting the Delaware River as far back as the late 1700s, when they emptied sewers, slaughterhouses, and tanneries into it. By the 1950s, it was one of the most polluted waterways in the world.
“We’ve made real progress to clean up and restore the Delaware River with the support and guidance of the U.S. EPA,” said Stephanie Wein, the clean-water advocate for PennEnvironment, “but this budget proposal would put all of that in jeopardy.”
Wein released the 25-page report outlining what the Trump administration plan could mean for the region during a news conference Tuesday at the Fairmount Water Works, overlooking the Schuylkill and Boathouse Row. The Schuylkill is the largest tributary emptying into the Delaware River and is a key part of its watershed.
The administration has proposed a 31 percent budget cut for the EPA in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, which would reduce the agency’s current $8 billion spending plan by about $2.6 billion.
The House Appropriations Committee has approved a bill that would cut the EPA budget to about $7.5 billion. The agency’s Region 3 office in Philadelphia will potentially be among the biggest hit by buyouts.
PennEnvironment says the region, covering Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York, stands to lose collectively an estimated $20 million in grants for water pollution, drinking-water protection, and non-point-source control and enforcement. Much of that is for Delaware River watershed programs, Wein said.
“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,” the report states.
Grants to the states are used to help industry figure out how to use less toxic materials, assist farmers in reducing fertilizers and pesticides, support Schuylkill restoration from acid mine drainage, and to control runoff containing road salts, oil, and sediment. The report cites examples of how EPA money has been used to aid waterways connected to the Delaware:
Officials at the news conference, including U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, State Rep. Donna Bullock, city Councilman Derek Green and Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, all expressed concerns over what the cuts would mean for the watershed. Rosanne Mistretta of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership and Maura McCarthy of Friends of the Wissahickon also spoke.
“When you threaten to cut that budget, you are threatening a lifeline to communities,” Bullock said.
She noted that 1.5 million people use the Schuylkill for drinking water and that 30 percent of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s budget comes from EPA grants. The agency already has faced cuts “year after year after year,” Bullock said, and the state cannot afford to pick up the slack.