ST. LOUIS • President Donald Trump’s budget proposal focuses its most aggressive cuts on the Environmental Protection Agency, aiming to slash the agency’s funding by 31 percent.
The move has prompted concern about how the St. Louis area may be affected by potential changes in the agency’s local activity — particularly at West Lake Landfill and other hazardous waste sites managed under the Superfund program.
Officials from the offices of local congressional representatives cautioned that Thursday’s preliminary budget figures were highly susceptible to change once turned over to Congress. They also said it was hard to anticipate how the proposed cuts would manifest themselves, because the administration’s budget simply reflects desired changes in agency funding overall and does not outline specific programming to be eliminated.
“There’s different agencies within EPA that Superfund relies on,” said Dawn Chapman, a co-founder of Just Moms STL, a group of resident activists focusing on the landfill that contains radioactive waste. EPA entities such as the National Remedy Review Board and the Office of Research and Development, for instance, have played roles vital to the work conducted at West Lake.
“You have different theories of ways to make Superfund better, but none of them require simply just cutting the budget of EPA,” said Chapman.
Scott Slesinger, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the organization estimates that Trump’s proposal would equate to a $330-million cut to the Superfund program.
To Chapman and others following West Lake, the looming possibility of EPA budget cuts heightens the urgency to shift management of the site to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Legislation advocating for that change faltered in Congress last year, and has yet to show new signs of life.
Others worry that the implications of cuts would extend beyond Missouri’s 58 remedial Superfund sites — which includes 20 in St. Louis city, St. Louis County and adjacent counties — pointing out that popular programs and the EPA’s general ability to enforce regulations could be compromised.
But St. Louis area residents such as Chapman hope that the severity of the proposed cuts and the high stakes at West Lake will spark even conservative-leaning residents to mobilize and rally bipartisan support for the EPA.
“It’s important to keep this as bipartisan as we can,” Chapman said. “There’s this real idea that conservatives don’t care about the environment, but I don’t think that’s the case.
“If we can get them to speak out on this issue, it can be very effective to change the minds of the legislators who have an effect on this site.”
Others, meanwhile, say it’s squarely on lawmakers to stand up for the agency during the budget process.
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