As parts of the U.S. experience the 2017 total eclipse of the sun today, I can’t help but use the “eclipse” analogy to reference the recent proposed budget cuts by the Trump administration which have drawn crosshairs on the EPA to the tune of 31% of the agency’s overall budget, and the reduction of agency personnel by 3,200 employees. This drastic curtailment of funding, part of the new administration’s pledge to remove the federal government from the funding and enforcement of programs it considers the responsibility of individual states, will all but eliminate the EPA’s Lead Risk Reduction Program. This program, which houses the EPA’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) program, will see an eradication of “16.61 million dollars,” of which “$2.56 million” will be directly eliminated from the EPA’s RRP program budget. For all intents and purposes, the administrations proposed budget would gut the agency’s 2010 RRP program so extensively that it would cease to exist in all but name.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with the 2010 RRP program, the program, in the words of the EPA, “aims to reduce exposure to toxic lead-paint chips and dust by requiring renovators to be certified in federally approved methods of containing and cleaning up work areas in homes constructed before 1978.” Without funding, and subsequently enforcement, the EPA would be powerless to protect some of the most vulnerable communities throughout the United States from exposure to the effects of lead-based paint. These communities, primarily tribal, low-income, and communities of color, rely heavily on the EPA’s ability to provide enforcement of lead-based paint regulations in order to ensure that they receive the same protections that are regularly afforded to more affluent communities through the privileges that wealth and access to power provide. Furthermore, the elimination of 3,200 EPA employees means that these vulnerable communities lose not only their staunchest advocates, professionals that have integrated themselves into these communities with the sole intent of protecting them, but also lose the teeth of regulatory enforcement. Without funding or “boots on the ground,” there ceases to be any mechanism with which programs like the RRP program can be carried out.
And let us not lose site of what it is that this funding provides protection from. “Lead is a potent neurotoxin, particularly harmful to children and the elderly.” In fact, a 2015 report commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “found that 243,000 children had blood lead levels above the danger threshold – and that permanent neurological damage and behavior disorders had been associated at even lower levels of lead exposure.” Without funding, the Lead Risk Reduction Program loses the ability to apply the various instruments, like the RRP program, designed and used to aid in the prevention of harmful exposures to lead-based paint hazards. As a result, dispossessed communities throughout the United States will surely see increases in the blood lead levels of their children; increases that have been proven to be preventable with adequate funding and enforcement.
Ultimately, we must realize that this is not simply an issue of fiscal discipline as portrayed by the current administration; it is one of environmental justice; an issue that calls into question what we as a nation espouse to be. Furthermore, let us not also be fooled by the claims of the administration, that cutting the Lead Risk Reduction Program is simply a transfer of responsibility to the individual states. This is patently false. A claim easily dismissed through further analysis of the proposed budget as a “second cut, a much deeper $14.05 million, would zero out grants to state and tribal programs that also address lead-based paint risks.” This elimination of federal grant money, “the guts of the program that protects kids from lead poisoning from paint,” at the state level, would leave states impotent, unable to fund enforcement of federal lead regulations without finding funding through some other, external or internal source. A highly unlikely prospect.
While this outlook may seem bleak, it is important to resist the temptation to despair and give in to feelings of hopelessness. One way that individual states are resisting is through staying the course, despite the proposed decreases in state funding. By staying focused and resilient, states can avoid the pitfalls of despondency and acceptance. We must do the same. As for CHC Training, our organization will remain committed to educating both the private and public sectors about the harms of lead-based paint and will continue to offer courses, including the EPA’s RRP course, to meet the needs of the community. We will remain steadfast in our commitment to providing students the skills they need in order to carry out their work without harming themselves or the public that so desperately relies on them. Through remaining relentless in our commitment, we remain on the side of justice. We answer in the affirmative that as a nation, we will live up to our values of equality and equal protection under the law. And we will not succumb to those who propose abandoning the most vulnerable of our citizens under the guise of fiscal responsibility. I encourage you to join us.