Summit Daily editorial: Slashing EPA budget a blow to Colorado’s health
The Environmental Protection Agency is far from perfect.
In 2015, while in the midst of a reclamation effort, it accidentally triggered the massive Gold King Mine spill in Silverton, Colorado, that turned the Animas River orange with heavy metals. Then, to add insult to injury, the EPA announced it would not pay the $1.2 billion in claims filed against it for the damages that followed the 3-million-gallon belch of toxic effluent that coursed through southern Colorado and into New Mexico. (It was announced late on March 16, when this editorial came out, that the agency would dole out a trickle of $54,000 in reimbursements for damage).
The event was one of the most widely publicized environmental disasters in recent memory, with an iconic photo of kayakers paddling through rusty water running on the front page of the New York Times.
But that dramatic visual wasn’t an unfamiliar sight to Summit County residents, who witnessed a similar spill in 2006, when the Blue River turned a muddy shade of rust after the abandoned Iron Spring mine coughed up a heavy metal brew. The EPA didn’t cause that spill, but the federal regulatory agency has helped our county clean up other environmental messes, including the Pennsylvania Mine, one of the state’s most polluted mining sites in the state. The EPA pitched in $1.8 million for that project and has contributed millions in grants throughout the state.
The EPA plays an essential role in protecting Colorado’s water and air quality. It’s a noble and necessary mission. That’s why President Donald Trump’s wrecking ball of a budget released this week should be viewed as no less than an affront to our very health. He’s calling for Congress to bleed the EPA’s budget by $2.6 billion, which would result in the agency’s lowest funding level in 40 years. Slashing 31 percent of the EPA’s funding is dangerous, reckless and a direct threat to Colorado’s most fragile ecosystems and communities.
The EPA has long been a whipping post for industries demanding fewer regulations and more profits. Scott Pruitt, the EPA’s new chief, is well known for his legal battles against the agency back when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general and an unabashed advocate for oil and gas companies. Ignoring climate science, opening the door for an unchecked, extractive use of natural resources and a hostility toward community health concerns that get in the way of high profits — that’s not the historic goal of the EPA. Instead, the agency’s mission statement is to protect human health and the environment — air, water and land. It should remain that way.
For Summit County and the rest of the Colorado High Country, a pristine environment is part and parcel of our tourism-based economy. However, we shouldn’t draw lines between beautiful land and useful land. As Wendell Berry once said, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
The Summit Daily editorial board consists of editor Ben Trollinger, publisher Meg Boyer, a reporter and three citizen members.
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