By Michael Mikulka

Indiana residents are at risk of worsening air pollution levels, water contamination and deteriorating quality of life due to an extreme budget and devastating staff cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The proposed cuts will significantly impact the ability of the EPA to protect human health and the environment in The Hoosier State, which is also home to several Superfund sites. The latest budget proposal from the House Appropriations Committee would cut funding for the EPA by over 6 percent across the board.

This is unacceptable. The EPA has already been slashed to a bare-bones staff of under 15,000, down from over 18,100 in 1999.

The EPA budget has been declining since 2010, despite unrelenting environmental challenges. If President Trump’s ill-advised and unjustified budget cuts become law, American’s protectors will have been cut 27 percent in the last seven years.

In addition to these cutbacks, the administration, which seemingly has no respect for our democratic institutions, is currently working to bleed the agency of its talented professional staff with decades of experience through a mass employee buy-out campaign. These include engineers, scientists, first-responders and lawyers who are your neighbors and friends.

If the administration had its way, about one in four EPA workers would lose their jobs. And 30 percent of the total federal workforce are veterans. This past July, 182 staff members in the Chicago office, which oversees Indiana and six other states in Region 5, received letters from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt asking them to depart the agency no later than Sept. 2. Similar instructions were sent to EPA staff nationwide. As of last week’s deadline, 32 employees in Region 5 applied for the early exit, which is known as the buyout.

Pruitt stated that he wanted more than 1,200 employees to leave, to purportedly restructure the workforce going forward.

A long-time adversary of the agency, he claimed positions, in some cases where dedicated public employees worked for 30 years, were no longer needed. That claim is farcical, and is another effort by this administration to undercut the effectiveness of those protecting Indiana residents’ health and environment.

What can people do? Hoosiers must sound the alarm, contact their elected officials, and express their profound concerns as those budget cuts will directly impact the public. Not surprising, and coming from the science-deniers now in charge, the Science & Technology budget would also face a 15 percent cut, making sound solutions impossible to achieve.

Air, water and hazardous waste programs will lose funding by another 9 percent. Does the president understand that Congress gave EPA the authority to monitor, inspect and enforce clean air, water and land? If not, Americans and future generations cannot be guaranteed it. The Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, which funds infrastructure investment in wastewater, would be diminished by 18 percent, although there are over $271 billion in identified needs over the next 20 years. This includes $7.2 billion in Indiana.

President Trump would fund drinking water infrastructure at $863 million, even though there are $384 billion in identified needs nationwide over the next 20 years. Indiana has needs worth $5.9 billion. Does he realize that the numbers don’t add up?

There are great repercussions for the health of Hoosiers. With cuts of this magnitude, the public should not be surprised to see increases in diseases from water-borne pathogens, contamination from heavy metals like lead, hormonal and reproductive problems, attacks on our children’s nervous systems, and increased rates of liver disease, kidney disease and cancer.

Once more, we are asking the public to contact their members of Congress to oppose these draconian cuts and ensure full funding and staffing for the EPA, including keeping a strong Region 5 office in Chicago to efficiently serve Indiana and the whole Great Lakes region.

The American public cannot afford a cut of another eight percent to the EPA budget.