OPED: Trump wrong to target EPA science

Ruth Greenspan Bell
Tribune News Service

As protesters prepare to converge on Washington, D.C., for the second annual March on Science on Saturday, the Trump administration is once again seeking to slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency.

This is an affront to every American. Science is the EPA's backbone, essential to everything from establishing protections to cleaning up waste sites. Yet Trump's 2019 budget would cut the EPA's overall funding by 25 percent. An analysis by the environmental group I work with found that funding for science would, under the new budget, be cut by 48 percent.

In March, Congress rejected Trump's call for a 30 percent cut in the EPA's funding for the 2018 budget year. But there's no guarantee that the president won't get his way this time.

Science has played a starring role in EPA's greatest achievements since it was founded in 1970, leading to reductions in lead exposure, improved water quality, clearer air and more.

More:EPA says Superfund Task Force left behind little paper trail

Consider lead, for example. Decades ago, this potent neurotoxin was painted on walls and blasted from tailpipes, making it ubiquitous in American homes, air and drinking water. EPA scientists pored through research that showed the devastating effects of lead on brain development and health, especially for children. That research was the basis for phasing out lead in gasoline.

As a result, the percentage of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood plummeted from 88 percent in the late 1970s to less than 1 percent by the mid-2000s.

Or consider our nation's waters. Back in the 1970s, two-thirds of the nation's lakes, rivers and coastal waters were unsafe for fishing or swimming. Untreated sewage and industrial toxins were pumped straight into waterways; oil-fouled rivers occasionally burst into flames. Using the best available science, the EPA set tough regulations that made it safe to go into the water again.

And there's the air we breathe. EPA scientists helped connect the dots between air pollution and asthma, respiratory illness, heart disease and cancer. Air pollution has been reduced by 70 percent over the last 45 years, even as the nation's economy has tripled. Reductions in nitrous dioxide and particulate matter have led to measurable improvements in children's health.

More:Federal court: EPA must act on Brunner Island petition

Fighting pollution is a never-ending battle. New threats constantly emerge, and we need sound science to help identify, track and correct them. For example, EPA scientists evaluate new compounds before they are put on the market, and ensure that the chemicals used in agriculture and industry don't pose a threat to children and families.

Cutting the science budget by half, as the Trump administration proposes, would decimate the agency's ability to keep us safe. These cuts are not just numbers on a spreadsheet; they affect real people, including vulnerable asthma-prone children.

The March for Science, which will include 230 satellite events around the world, seeks to "work toward a future where science is fully embraced in public life and policy."

Those who take to the streets April 14 are helping to protect us all. Let's hope they succeed, and that the Trump administration is forced to back down.

— Ruth Greenspan Bell, a former EPA manager, serves as president of the board of directors for the Environmental Protection Network, a national nonprofit group.