Editorials

EPA cuts will cost Triangle jobs

A rendering of RTI International’s new office tower that is now under construction. Proposed cuts in the EPA’s budget could reduce jobs at RTI and others that rely on federal funding for environmental research.
A rendering of RTI International’s new office tower that is now under construction. Proposed cuts in the EPA’s budget could reduce jobs at RTI and others that rely on federal funding for environmental research. Courtesy of RTI International

Boasts and promises from presidential candidates can have consequences. Now, those consequences are about to be felt in the Research Triangle, with an astounding proposal from the Trump administration to cut the EPA’s budget by more than 30 percent.

The president wants deregulation of virtually everything, especially the financial industry, where his billionaire friends want the freedom to gamble with the economy. With environment regulation it’s the same. Trump and his advisers see regulation an an hindrance to energy exploration and a general drag on industry.

The ominous possibilities in Trump’s environmental policies now are seen in the EPA cutbacks. To start, buyouts have been offered to more than 1,200 employees agency-wide. Other cutbacks may affect as many as 700 nonprofit and state jobs in the Triangle. Those jobs may not report directly to the EPA, but they’re funded by the agency.

Consider, for example, that more than 350 economists, engineers and scientists working at the research organization RTI in Research Triangle Park are funded by the EPA. RTI is hoping to do more cutting-edge research, but the EPA, likely in anticipation of Trump cuts, has already halted one research project.

Robin Smith, a former state assistant secretary of the environment, sees serious implications of EPA cuts. She says the federal government, through the EPA, pays for half of the state’s programs that have to do with permitting and enforcing clean air and clean water programs. Proposed cuts, she said, would take away more than $3 million from North Carolina’s environmental programs.

The EPA’s large presence in RTP also includes the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, with 300 employees. That agency designs air-quality standards for the entire United States.

The EPA is a good agency, and its regulations and actions to enforce them have doubtless prevented environmental disasters and will help to ensure clean air and water for generations. A Republican, President Nixon, created the EPA. Republicans should stop seeing environmental protection as some kind of partisan activity that pits economic progress against tree-huggers.

When it comes to protecting the environment, everyone is on the same side – or should be. A cleaner environment in good for all – including business.

And this is certain: The consequences of lax environmental regulation might not be felt for decades, until the grandchildren of these generations face the consequences, or they might be felt tomorrow, in pollution from hog farms after a torrential storm, or in an environmental accident at a nuclear power plant.

The EPA’s mission is noble. It is vital. It is life-saving. Diminishing it puts the country, and the world, at risk.

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